Washington Fruit & Produce's Matt Miles and Frank Davis Discuss Organic Growing Operations
- by Robert Schaulis
YAKIMA, WA - Organic fruit is an expanding category—that much is clear—and apple providers looking to stay ahead of the curve are increasingly turning to organic growing to drive sales and seek out emerging consumer trends.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Matt Miles, Organic Program Coordinator, and Frank Davis with Washington Fruit & Produce Co. to find out how Washington Fruit is rising to the challenge and meeting customers where they live with organic offerings of some of the apple category’s most on-trend and in-demand varieties.
“We started our transition to organic in 2014. We went through and analyzed the broad spectrum of our different ranches and chose our highest yielding blocks with some of the best coloring varieties for the organic transition,” said Matt. “Our first certified Organic production was in 2017. Our varieties were designed around our customer’s needs. Basically, we went in with organic Gala, organic Fuji, organic Granny Smith, and organic Honeycrisp, and we also have other varieties that we are transitioning into organic production.”
As a forward-thinking company with roughly 15 percent of its total acreage in organic production, Washington Fruit has been riding the crest of a rising tide for the past two years.
“In the past few years, we’ve put a real focus on putting together a team of experts in the organic category. We’ve put together an entire organic department,” Frank noted. “That’s how committed we are to this program. We’ve hired top notch people in the organics category to carry us forward.”
Matt and Frank tell me that the company is working toward year-round availability across its organic varieties—and shows no signs of slowing down in the near future.
“There was a need, within our company, to supply organics as part of our basket, and we did not want to just step into it partially. We wanted to make sure everything we do is top notch. If we’re going to do it, we do it right, and we do it right the first time,” explained Matt. “It’s important to note, too, that as demand for organic apples continues to increase, we have the capacity to increase production along with it. We want to make sure we’re in scope with what we’re doing and not out of balance, and being 90 percent vertically integrated allows us the flexibility to adjust with our customers’ needs.”
To that end, Washington Fruit has built a number of dynamic controlled atmosphere rooms, Matt tells me, designed to extend the company’s organic apple season and provide high-quality fresh fruit to its customers. Combined with the company’s state-of-the-art optical packing lines, Washington Fruit is able to provide the freshest, most consistent eating experience possible to end consumers.
And the company isn’t stopping with organic apples. Alongside its partner Underwood Fruit—grower of 100 percent of Washington Fruit Company’s organic pears—the company is embarking on a major expansion in its pear operations.
“Our partner, Underwood Fruit, is building a pear facility in Bingen, Washington, that is absolutely the best in the world—with operational efficiencies all the way through the organization that will really help us deliver excellent pears,” added Frank. “Our ability to do ripening and preconditioning in that facility will really help our customers and end-consumers.”
With a focus on Bartlett, d’Anjou, and Bosc varieties, Washington Fruit and Underwood Fruit will continue to expand their organic pear program. And, Matt and Frank tell me, the company is continuing to evaluate its organics program, working with customers to meet burgeoning need as the category grows.