Homegrown Organic Farms Citrus Category Director Craig Morris Discusses the Season, Weather, and Organic Trends
- by Lillie Apostolos
PORTERVILLE, CA - From porch-lit, springtime chats over tea with lemon to work-break mandarins for a healthy, on-the-go options; citrus is a necessity in my house. And because my lemon tree only yields so much fruit, I turn to the professionals for my citrus needs. With its citrus program in full swing right now, Homegrown Organic Farms, thankfully, has both the goods to offer and packaging designs to make its varietals stand out on the shelf.
“Over the last 20 years Homegrown has built one of the largest organic citrus programs in the country. This has been made possible by our ownership’s commitment to organic farming and a lot of hard work by really good people,” Citrus Category Director Craig Morris tells me. “We have about a dozen different varietals grown in Northern and Southern California.”
While some aspects of business are always a bit more trying than others, this year’s harvest is shaping up well.
“When we came in this season, our crop was down about 15 percent, which isn’t good for growers, but overall, pack-outs have been trending up about 15 percent,” Craig tells me. “We had a light crop set this year because of hot temperatures during the spring bloom of 2017, but quality is great.”
I asked him how this light crop has been impacted by the weather as the company moves through harvest, since it has been a bumpy season in some parts of the nation, but Craig’s response is as refreshing as the super sweet citrus the company produces. It appears that the moderation of cold and warmth throughout the season has worked to Homegrown Organic Farms’ advantage.
“The weather has produced some different benefits this year. We started out with some cold weather in late December and January, but it didn’t have the durations or the super low temps that damage a crop. If anything, it toughened the rind and gave us a stronger piece of fruit. With all the rain over the past few weeks, which has been much needed in California, we’ve been able to pick between weather events. It has not affected our overall fruit supply,” Craig excitingly shares with me. “It’s been kind of perfect and has created a natural prorate, which can be very advantageous to the marketplace because it keeps the industry from over-picking its marketing capabilities.”
To make the produce stand out on the shelf, the company employs a strategy first developed by grape producers, Craig notes. The company’s pouch bags work great to style the citrus in a trendy way and to make grab-and-go shopping easier, thanks to the handle.
“It’s done a tremendous job of showcasing the fruit. It really makes it pop, and retailers like the style of the bag because it drives a higher ring at the register,” he says. “Because of the organic trend, and the increase in interest over the course of the past few years, club stores have really come on strong as customers. So, we have done a pretty extensive development of our club-style packs. These are larger units than you normally see in retail.”
As our chat draws to a close, Craig expresses that the company’s organic offerings cycle through what’s in season, a year-round offering of organic fruit—including stonefruit, blueberries, grapes, fall fruit, and, being that they always have organic offerings for loyal consumers, I joke, “Always Homegrown. All the time”—a statement that brings a sense of stability and trusty nostalgia to pair with the citrus that customers love.