Mike Boyle is vice president of sales and sourcing at Organically Grown Company (OGC), an organic produce distributor headquartered in Eugene, Oregon. With five hubs throughout the Northwest, Organically Grown distributes organic produce north to Alaska, east to Montana, and south to the California-Oregon border. In addition to its regional distribution service, the company also acts as a national sales and marketing agent for 18–20 organic growers. Mike joined OPN for a conversation about organic produce trends, OGC’s customer base, the company’s recent brand refresh, and more.
How did you get started working in the produce industry?
In 1998, I got a job stacking produce at Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder, Colorado to help pay my way through school. Eventually, I joined the team at Whole Foods, where I was fortunate enough to learn the business from great mentors and get a ton of career growth opportunities over my 10 years with the company.
How long have you been working at OGC, and what drew you to work there?
I have been working with OGC since 2013, spending time in multiple roles on both the sales and purchasing side of the business. I am now serving as the VP of sales and sourcing. This group of coworkers is so dedicated to changing the world through organic produce and running a business with a purpose far beyond profit.
Mike Boyle, Vice President of Sales and Sourcing, Organically Grown Company
Speaking of purpose, why does OGC choose to distribute almost exclusively organic produce?
We believe so strongly in the benefits of organic agriculture for people and the planet. Growing organically is better for the environment and is healthier for both farm workers and consumers. We choose to focus on organic production because we believe it is a better system for growing food, and by narrowing our focus to this, we are more effectively able to advance the movement and change the food system in this country.
Can you describe OGC’s customer base?
Our core customer base is natural foods grocery retailers—independents, cooperatives, and major chains. We also sell to other wholesalers, as well as to restaurants and craft food producers. In addition to our distribution business here in the Northwest, we have a national sales program where we serve as marketers for growers that have more supply than our region can use.
One really exciting customer group that has exploded in growth since March is direct-to-consumer businesses. These box programs and home delivery companies are so creative and nimble and have done an amazing job adjusting to the needs of the community during the pandemic.
“We believe so strongly in the benefits of organic agriculture for people and the planet. Growing organically is better for the environment and is healthier for both farm workers and consumers.” -Mike Boyle
Can you talk about your relationships with growers and why those are so important to OGC?
We originally started out as an Agricultural Marketing Cooperative, so from the beginning, the purpose of our company was to serve growers. Now, in our new company structure as a trust-owned business, our commitment to growers is as strong as ever since they are one of our five stakeholder groups.
As part of our mission to continue to advance organic agriculture, one of our concerns over the years has been farm succession. We have worked with Jamie Kitzrow of Spring Hill Organic Farm since he started his operation in 1990. He was one of our grower-owners and served on our board over the years. Jamie consistently grew some of the highest-quality vegetables, and our customers would ask for his products by name. When he prepared for retirement a couple years ago, he created a wonderful solution for his farm, his workers, and for OGC. Jamie split his farm into two and sold each piece to longtime workers on his crew. He mentored them for their first season farming on their own, and OGC partnered with each new operation, Eloisa Organic Farm and Sunrise Organic Farm, to provide the same crop planning and marketing services we offered to Jamie for three decades.
Paulo Martinez Cortez, Sunrise Organic Farm in Oregon
What kinds of trends have you noticed in the organic produce industry in recent years?
Our customers serve a unique community of consumers. They are highly educated and adventurous foodies. They love knowing where their produce comes from and who grew it. In terms of specific growth categories, we have seen tremendous interest in citrus, berries, and melons over the last few years. We’re also seeing customers embrace specialty varieties.
One thing we are all very excited about right now as the weather begins to turn cooler is radicchios! We currently have seven varieties in-house with incredible variation in appearance and flavor. Radicchios make the best winter salads.
Organically Grown Company's Lusia variety radicchio
“One really exciting customer group that has exploded in growth since March is direct-to-consumer businesses. These box programs and home delivery companies are so creative and nimble and have done an amazing job adjusting to the needs of the community during the pandemic.” -Mike Boyle
How has the COVID-19 situation affected OGC?
As the world has turned to cooking and eating at home, OGC has seen increased volume as we serve growers, customers, and eaters across the Pacific Northwest by bringing organic produce to the people. We are so grateful for our tremendous partnerships and proud of the way the organic supply chain has been able to pivot and respond to demands and changes in this tumultuous year.
You’ve also had some severe wildfires in Oregon recently—how have those impacted your company?
September was such a challenging time for so many communities in the Northwest, and our coworkers, growers, and customers were all significantly impacted. We dealt with some of the worst air quality in our history and struggled through evacuations all over the region. Some local farms were damaged and homes were lost by both farm and retail workers.
The impact was great, and we’re helping in a variety of ways, small and large. We provided donations of fresh produce to frontline workers and to community-based groups feeding those who lost so much. We’ve also used our new OGC Mission Fund (a zero-and low-percent loan and grant program) to earmark $50,000 to support the work of relief organizations working directly with those impacted.
Organically Grown Company's new logo
Your company just underwent a major brand refresh. Can you tell us a bit about that?
OGC was founded 42 years ago as the foundation and demand for organics were taking hold. We played a key part in building the organic produce supply chain in the Pacific Northwest, evolving our dreams and ideas into a business that’s always been guided by a big mission and a lot of heart.
Over time, our capacity, services, and leadership have evolved into something greater. In late 2018, we became the first business in the US to transfer its ownership to a Purpose Trust, ensuring our independence and mission-focused leadership into perpetuity. This transition inspired our brand refresh. Our new look reflects the spirit of who we are and how we’ve grown and evolved. Our logo and website may look different, but our core values and commitment to a fair and just supply chain remain the same.
Organically Grown Company's new Ladybug brand packaging
Part of your brand refresh involves changes to your private Ladybug label. When and why was Ladybug initially created, and how has the rebrand changed it?
Our Ladybug Brand was created in the ‘80s to help the farmer members of our original co-op sell their product out of our region and into different markets in the country. Packing under a cohesive brand improved sales and helped retail buyers relate to the product line. As part of our refresh, we not only updated our Ladybug logo, but we also made the decision to expand our grower partnerships beyond the Pacific Northwest. We want to help as many organic growers sell their produce as we possibly can.
“Our new look reflects the spirit of who we are and how we’ve grown and evolved. Our logo and website may look different, but our core values and commitment to a fair and just supply chain remain the same.” -Mike Boyle
As someone in a leadership position at a longstanding and influential organic produce company, what are your thoughts on the future of the industry?
2020 has shown just how resilient the organic trade is. We believe that our industry is very strong and that demand for organic produce is only going to increase over time, especially now that there is an intense consumer focus on health and supporting the local supply chain. Organic agriculture provided pioneering leadership in soil health, carbon sequestration, and fair trade initiatives, and it continues to be critical in this day and age as restoring the environment, reversing the impacts of climate change, and ensuring a just and equitable supply chain are more paramount than ever before.