PMA Fresh Connections - Retail April 10-11, 2019 - Philadelphia, PA

Grimmway Farms: Organic Chemistry

"The organic market is just booming, and we don’t see that going away,” says Jeff Huckaby.

As President and CEO of Grimmway Farms, the industry standard-bearer supplying conventional and organic carrots and other premium produce offerings to customers across the globe, Jeff is well-versed in the challenges, risks, and rewards of growing premium-quality organic produce. 

In 2001, looking to strengthen the company’s stake in the organic produce market, Grimmway Farms acquired Cal-Organic Farms. Founded in 1984 on a quarter acre of organic lettuce, with a commitment to providing premium sustainably-grown organic vegetables every day of the year, Cal-Organic would quickly expand. Over the next two decades, the company would grow to offer more than 65 USDA-certified organic vegetables—from cauliflower and kale to potatoes and parsley.

Lacinato kale harvested by hand in Tehachapi, CANow, Grimmway Farms is looking to trade on its hard-earned knowledge by embarking on an ambitious new campaign. No one said that organic would be easy. But with nearly half a century of experience under their belts, collectively, the Grimmway Farms team is responding to the challenge. As the company approaches its 50th anniversary, Grimmway Farms is redoubling its marketing efforts, and putting its Cal-Organic Farms brand front and center with an interactive consumer campaign that celebrates the company’s storied history and forward-thinking approach to organics.

Set in motion by the company’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Eric Proffitt, Vice President of Marketing Kellen Stailey, and Jeff, himself, the new campaign aims to both educate and entertain consumers, while pulling back the veil on Grimmway Farms and Cal-Organic.

As the burgeoning organic market and company's mission converge, Cal-Organic is mounting a multichannel effort to educate consumers on the extraordinary qualities of its produce with its first-integrated consumer brand campaign.

“The branding campaign is designed to educate consumers on the value and process behind organic certification, showcase the features and benefits of Cal-Organic products, and help consumers understand the company and culture behind the brand. We are excited to share the stories of our farmers, their experience, and why they do what they do.”

- Kellen Stailey

“When it comes to quality, we have learned to overcome many challenges by implementing a rigorous cold chain system and best practices carefully monitored from seed to shelf,” Jeff tells me. “After many years of trials, quality has become one of our greatest advantages.”

Because of costs associated with growing organically, though, consumers who are more attenuated to price-points than to the promise of quality associated with a brand like Cal-Organic may not understand what differentiates the company from conventional competitors. While Cal-Organic has been more than successful at growing quality organic product, Jeff tells me that "lowering price is more difficult to solve.”

Lacinato kale harvested by hand in Tehachapi, CA

“It costs more to grow organically than it does conventionally—period," Jeff notes. "Many of our crops are hand-harvested; labor rates continue to rise, and when extreme weather comes into play, we have to be very creative to achieve the quality we command without driving costs higher.”

In response to shifting retail purchasing behavior and an evolving consumer mindset, Grimmway Farms is looking to build on Cal-Organic’s reputation for quality and further develop its rapport with end-consumers. As consumers move away from a traditional commodity market conception of produce—in which a carrot is a carrot is a carrot—and increasingly favor value-added, proprietary, and branded offerings, Grimmway Farms is hoping to continue to differentiate with extraordinary quality, by building brand loyalty, and by directly engaging with Cal-Organic’s consumers.

“Our research indicated that consumer attitudes, preferences, and shopping habits are evolving when it comes to organic produce,” notes Eric. “Consumers want to better understand the benefits, practices, and certification process behind organic farming, and we felt there was an opportunity to develop a relationship directly with our consumers, providing value from educational, informational, and entertainment perspectives.”

While a USDA-organic-certified seal is important, Cal-Organic wants consumers to know that this is evidence of a process—not merely a selling point. The process involves both a team with years of experience in cultivating organic produce and innovations in technology and technique that allow Cal-Organic to adapt to challenges.

Sunrise over Grimmway’s organic farmland in Tehachapi, CA

 

“A lot of what we grow is hand-selected, hand-harvested, and hand-packed, resulting in a very high-quality end product. We won’t cut quality, so we’ve introduced more automation and built more value into each job,” says Jeff, explaining that by proactively seeking out ways to mechanize and build a skilled labor force, Cal-Organic is primed to continue a tradition of integrity and forward thinking, as the company scales its operation to meet booming organic demand.

From the field to store shelves, the Cal-Organic team works tirelessly to care for the land on which the company grows and to ensure the integrity of its products throughout the supply chain. Cal-Organic’s new multichannel campaign is focused on telling this story to consumers.

Lacinato kale harvested by hand in Tehachapi, CA

With an emphasis on the people who grow, harvest, pack, and distribute Cal-Organic fresh produce, the company’s campaign seeks to communicate the humanity behind the food, and will include imagery and anecdotes throughout the field and supply chain—including stories of technology, business, innovation, social responsibility, philanthropy, and more.

“The branding campaign is designed to educate consumers on the value and process behind organic certification, showcase the features and benefits of Cal-Organic products, and help consumers understand the company and culture behind the brand,” says Kellen. “We are excited to share the stories of our farmers, their experience, and why they do what they do.”

In this sense, the new campaign could be seen as an extension of the company’s longstanding commitment to transparent, sustainable, and traceable farming practices.

“In order to grow organics successfully, there needs to be a transparency to the entire process,” notes Eric, who tells me that Cal-Organic’s early ambitions to grow organic produce year-round have necessitated significant investment in land. “For total transparency, we must own the land. We realized this early on and have stuck by this strategy ever since.”

“We’re farmers. We nurture, we grow, we feed. As farmers, we are stewards of our land and we think philanthropy and social responsibility are fundamental to the ethos of a farmer.”

–Jeff Huckaby

And land stewardship and traceability are two important aspects of the operation the company’s Cal-Organic campaign will showcase with its marketing efforts.

By building awareness strategically, first through digital outreach, across the company’s various online channels—including social, press, and experiential marketing efforts—the Cal-Organic team plans to target millennial consumers who are increasingly focused on food and concerned with food ethics.

from Left to right: Eric Proffitt, Kellen Stailey, and Jeff Huckaby at Grimmway’s headquarters in Arvin, CA

“From a business standpoint, organic produce continues to enjoy positive growth. Today’s consumers are looking for organic options and millennials are as passionate about food and premium ingredients as any segment out there,” Eric adds. “But tomorrow’s consumers will want even more. From an ethical perspective, growing more organic makes sense for us, too. The values associated with sustainable farming—land stewardship, innovation, and responsibility passed down through generations—it’s who we are.”

By developing original branded content and launching a retooled website the company hopes to build its relationship directly with the consumers driving organic produce to the forefront of our industry. With video content featuring stories about sustainability, traceability, and the organic harvest process; partnerships with a number of media outlets; and branded social media campaigns designed to give consumers a behind-the-scenes look at the people behind their food, Grimmway Farms and the Cal-Organic team are hoping to cement bonds with the company’s end-customer and let them know a commitment to community fundamentally informs their operations.

“We’re farmers. We nurture, we grow, we feed. As farmers, we are stewards of our land and we think philanthropy and social responsibility are fundamental to the ethos of a farmer,” adds Jeff. “We take seriously our responsibility to look after our community and give back to our employees, neighbors, and partners. And that’s the root of our consumer campaign—our goal is to show consumers what it means to be a farmer and the various facets that drive our commitment to the land.”

And with fresh-focused consumers increasingly aligning with the company’s ethos, the next fifty years are looking bright for Grimmway Farms.