More peaks than troughs for Purity Organic
California-based Purity Organic Produce kicked off its first Peruvian organic avocado deal into the U.S. this year and is also embarking on several new categories following a capital injection. Peru will play an important role with these products, including easy peelers and asparagus. CEO Greg Holzman outlines 2013 plans in more detail, while also speaking more broadly to www.freshfruitportal.com about organic produce trends.
Holzman says the organic produce industry will go through growth and dips just like any business, but there is no question the path is on an upward trend.
"That's what we're experiencing. Just look at the fact that when a Whole Foods Market puts down a store in an area, their competitors have a lot to think about - they either react or they don't, and in my mind they're losing," he says.
"Our consumers want to feel that they’re eating healthier, and they want to feel they’re not contributing to more pesticides in the planet, in the air, in the water, or in their families."
However, he says pricing is a challenge for the sector in achieving a level where people are willing to pay and growers will receive returns.
There are few produce items where this is more apparent than the labor-intensive crop of asparagus.
"It’s tricky. What we’re doing now is spending time, energy and money developing a 12-month asparagus deal," he says.
"Asparagus is labor intensive, so when you’re in a labor intensive area and you’re growing organically, production is diminished because you’re organic.
"You've really got a lot of challenges, but I go to restaurants all the time and I see asparagus on the table wherever I go. That means the asparagus market is growing in America."
Peruvian asparagus exports to the U.S. do carry their problems though, with intermittent fumigations upon arrival.
"It’s very difficult to run a program where you’re going to have random fumigations when they come to the States, because we’re organic and if they're sprayed and come into the States, they're no longer organic."
Peruvian soft citrus
Holzman says the company brought in its first Peruvian organic Minneola mandarin shipment this year, and demand was much higher than the amount supplied.
"Cold treatment is required and we were nervous about that, having cold treatment for 14 days just above 0°C (32°F), and what could happen to the citrus," he says.
"We only did one load because we were afraid, but we could have sold 10 loads in the same timeframe; everybody wanted it, it was delicious.
"I see that as a wonderful opportunity. We’ve got some volume, and with any luck we’ll have 10 loads next year."
He says Purity Organic will likely build on this success with Peruvian organic satsumas next year too.
"I believe we're going to make it work. I have citrus expertise here (California), and people who I hire are down there spending time in Peru right now. We’re working at all levels to try and get this done correctly."
The future of Peruvian organic avocados
Hopefully Purity's organic citrus deal will fare better than its organic avocados did this year; caught between an overhanging Californian crop and a steady supply of Mexican fruit, the South American country did not have the most favorable time to start its first full-year avocado campaign in the U.S.
"As far as I’m concerned, we had an imperfect storm in Peruvian avocados this year - we're trying to get good value for the growers but this year California had a big organic and conventional crop, and Mexico had hardly any break.
"In the early part of the deal when we first started bringing them in, it was the new thing on the block, everyone was interested and everyone thought what I thought – organics are getting shorter, let’s get behind this Peru deal. This is the answer for that window we’ve always been looking at from May to August.
"It wasn't true this year. I think it will be next year and that will be a different experience for Peruvian avocados."
He says the avocado deal was a struggle, but organic growers did manage to survive a bit better than their conventional counterparts.
"I think at the end of the day our grower probably survived the season without real losses - the conventional guys had real losses - but then again, you invest for years to get there, and to try and get than money back.
"This wasn't the year you got your money back."
Holzman adds Purity is making moves in several other areas where it hasn't been involved in the past, including pineapples, bananas and kiwifruit.
He sees both the South American and New Zealand organic apple campaigns growing in the years to come, even though some Chilean and Argentine growers pulled out last year because of financial reasons in the year prior.
"What happens with anything that's growing is if it grows too fast there’s almost always a pullback. I think what happened last year with growers, seeing that organic maybe wasn’t right for them financially, they started spraying again.
"This year shows them that we’re on an upward curve."