When the leaders of Alpine Fresh decided to enter the organic produce business about a decade ago, they knew it would become a permanent fixture of their operation. But what they didn’t expect was the remarkable growth the organic market has seen.
“Organic berries and asparagus have grown in leaps and bounds,” said Walter Yager, a co-founder of Alpine Fresh, headquartered in Doral, Florida. “The growth rate has been much higher than we expected—we were expecting 5 percent, 10 percent, your niche kind of consumer. And it’s been much, much higher, and the average consumer is reaching out more and more for organic.”
Hippie Organics' blackberries
This has proven especially true as organic gets more and more competitive compared to conventional, where traditionally you may have a 100-percent difference between conventional and organic, but now the company is seeing more of 30-percent spread.
“The growth rate has been much higher than we expected. … The average consumer is reaching out more and more for organic.” -Walter Yager
Walter Yager and Jose Sanchez founded Alpine Fresh in January of 1988 with the vision to connect Latin American produce growers with consumers in the United States.
“We felt that there was a gap between growers in [Latin America] and the United States, especially the language barrier, and we were able to fill that gap and bring products from there to market,” Walter Yager said.
Today, Alpine Fresh serves all 50 states in the US and nations on four continents, specializing in blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, asparagus, French beans, and brussels sprouts. The firm owns and operates farms and packing sheds while also partnering with growers around the globe.
Hippie Organics' blueberries
About 10 years ago, the company introduced its organic programs, which are now marketed under its Hippie Organics label.
Hippie Organics, created by Ashley Yager, marketing director for Alpine Fresh, uses vibrant original artwork to promote the company's organic fruits and vegetables.
“We wanted to do something different for our organic program,” she said. “The goal was to create an eye-catching concept that would genuinely resonate with consumers while staying true to our mission as a grower and marketer.”
“We felt that there was a gap between growers in [Latin America] and the United States, especially the language barrier, and we were able to fill that gap and bring products from there to market." -Walter Yager
Walter Yager explained that, in addition to the 10-20 percent of consumers who are dedicated to buying organic produce, more people are joining their ranks, especially when organic fruits and vegetables are priced competitively with their conventional counterparts.
“Just in the last two years, we’ve had a very high growth rate, particularly on asparagus,” he said. “Our asparagus growth over the past two years is probably well over 40 percent year-over-year both years. We expect this year to be the same, and then it will start to level off.”
Hippie Organics' raspberries
Hippie Organics has also seen success with its organic Sekoya blueberry program, which Walter Yager described as the company’s most significant initiative of 2021.
“That essentially takes the best blueberry [variety] that’s available in the marketplace to grow organically, and it creates a great eating experience and a great product for consumers,” he said.
A critical aspect of Alpine Fresh’s success in organics is its outstanding partnerships with organic growers.
“In general, we’re very focused on the organic growers we work with. We don’t work with just any organic grower; they have to reach a higher level,” Walter Yager said. “We focus on helping them to grow their business rather than just grabbing every organic piece of fruit that we can get our hands on. We can help them grow new varieties that have better yields and better resistance to funguses and pests [than] many traditional varieties that may not grow as well.”
The success of both Alpine Fresh and Hippie Organics comes down to experience, dedication, and providing customers with the best possible products and service.
“In general, we’re very focused on the organic growers we work with. We don’t work with just any organic grower; they have to reach a higher level." -Walter Yager
“We’ve been in business for over 30 years, and we’re very customer service centric. That is our main focus,” Walter Yager said. “We also want the farmers that we work with to feel that they’re a value-add. We use the term, ‘maximize the return of the farm,’ which doesn’t mean necessarily selling something at the highest price; it means maximizing the value of what the product has to offer.”
This ensures farmers have a spot in the marketplace, allowing them to avoid large market fluctuations.
“At the end of the day, the average is better,” Walter Yager said. “And that’s why we’ve been able to see success on both sides—in giving customers what they want and need ([and] being efficient in fulfilling those needs) and maximizing the returns for the farmer, and giving the farmer a seat at the table.”