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Christopher Ranch offering only California-grown organic garlic

With an increase in acreage, Gilroy, CA-based Christopher Ranch LLC has been able to follow through on its goal of only growing its organic garlic in the state of California for the 2018-19 season. Previously, the firm had augmented its domestic organic garlic supply with some organic garlic from Argentina to help fill orders as the season neared its end.

Organic-6oz-Retail-Bag Executive Vice President Ken Christopher told The Produce News in late March that with 12 million pounds of organic harvested during the summer of 2018 for distribution the following 12 months, the firm has been able to fill all of its orders. He expected that crop, which is currently being sold from storage, to last into June, which is when the 2019-20 organic crop will begin its harvest. California garlic, both organic and conventional, typically begins harvest around the middle of June with the so-called “early garlic” and finishes up with those fields in about a month. The harvest of “late-garlic” typically starts at the end of July and goes well into September. It is then sold from storage until the harvest begins anew in June of the following year.

Christopher said the exciting news in early 2019 is that demand for organic garlic is skyrocketing. “We are seeing growth rates of 20-40 percent in week over week sales,” he said.

He expects that the company has enough garlic in storage to take care of customers this season until the new crop begins in June, but did agree that it would be difficult to have supply keep up with demand if sales continue to grow at a 20-40 percent clip. For the 2019-20 season, the firm expected to harvest about 15 million pounds of organic garlic. That would represents three times the volume it had just three years ago but it still might not be enough to satisfy all the consumers in the United States that want organic garlic. For Christopher Ranch, that three million pound increase would represent a year over year supply growth of 25 percent.

Christopher indicated that a price hike may be necessary if demand continues at the current pace. Basic economics suggest that a rise in the price should result in a drop in demand, but Christopher is not certain that will happen. While conventional garlic sales do respond to price fluctuations, organic garlic buyers are very committed to the concept. Already they are paying substantially more per pound for the product. A typical retail price for conventional garlic is in the $3.50 per pound range while $5.99 is a fairly normal price for organic garlic.

Christopher said the price premium is justified by the increased production costs associated with organic garlic. He said a conventional organic field typically yields 18,000 to 20,000 pounds per acre, while organic production is half that at 9,000 to 10,000 pounds. He also said the cost to lease an acre of certified organic ground is also significantly higher than an acre used for conventional production.

Christopher said that while California-grown organic garlic appears to have a bright future, he believes organic garlic from China does pose a threat. Besides questioning the ability of the product to maintain its organic certification as it moves through several distribution channels in its country of origin, Christopher said it’s important that the price premium be preserved. In fact, he argued that with a little higher price premium, Christopher Ranch and other California organic garlic growers could continue to expand the category.