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Tanimura & Antle: On the Organic Frontier

There are few family legacies that have embedded their roots into California’s soil like that of Tanimura & Antle. Since patriarchs George Tanimura and Bob Antle joined together in 1982, the name has risen to one synonymous with innovation, intention, and sustainability.

It’s no surprise, then, that the grower/shipper includes organic growing among the core initiatives coursing through its development. Even before the recent launch of its own program, the team that makes up Tanimura & Antle has had its hands in organic soil.

“The history of Tanimura & Antle includes an organic mindset and an understanding of organic production based on previous company experience and development of the current program,” Director of Marketing Kyla Oberman says as she introduces me to the two latest additions to the Tanimura & Antle employee family: Chris Glynn and John McKeon.

Tanimura & Antle Offices in Salinas, California

With the cultivation of the company’s organic goals, Chris, Director of Organics, and John, Senior Manager of Organic Compliance and Sustainability, bring a combined 40 years in organic experience to the table. Together, the powerhouse duo is helping see to an ever-expanding organic portfolio that, in just a year’s time, has become as well known as Tanimura & Antle’s legacy.

“Our program started with great success and demand, and was established with existing Tanimura & Antle partners,” Chris explains. “It continues to grow and experience demand from additional retailer and wholesale operations. Tanimura & Antle has been so big in the conventional world for such a long time, offering some of the best agricultural practices in our industry.”


“In the first year the program is bringing in new customers that come in for organics but end up becoming, in some aspect, conventional buyers as well. That aspect of it is bringing in new business that we didn’t otherwise have.”
—Chris Glynn, Director of Organics, Tanimura & Antle

 

Both men have worked together for nearly a decade and jumped on board with Tanimura & Antle when the initial formation of the company’s organic program began to take shape.

“I’ve known Chris since I started at Earthbound Farm,” John recalls. “Tanimura & Antle had been a grower partner of Earthbound’s up until 2008, so we certainly had a relationship, and I was familiar with the operation. When the opportunity to be a part of Tanimura & Antle’s own organic line, essentially an entirely new organic program, that was really intriguing.”

Left to right: John McKeon and Chris Glynn in the field

Fast forward a year later, and Tanimura & Antle’s organic program has grown from its initial launch of organic romaine, organic romaine hearts, and Tanimura & Antle Artisan Organic sweet Italian red onions, to broccoli and cauliflower, and now, this summer, even more.

“This summer we’re adding organic sweet gem and organic iceberg, which are already available in conventional, as well as a few other potential offerings,” Chris says, telling me that the grower is expanding within the wheelhouse of what it’s already known for, continuing to build on existing complements to its conventional side and remaining aligned with Tanimura & Antle’s core strengths in production and harvest.
Organic Lettuce from Tanimura & Antle
As anyone remotely versed in organic growing methods will easily know by the size of the company’s portfolio, this could not have happened overnight. With not only the required time for soil to lay fallow before being certified “organic,” but also the knowledge and resources needed to plant, protect, and bring to market, I ask about the time and experience invested into the Tanimura & Antle Organic line.

“The company has been a part of the overall growth in organics since the 1990s,” John shares, explaining that this step was answering a call to provide customers a great selection of organic and conventional items from one source. There’s a buzzword John and Chris bring up when detailing the intention of the company’s label: premium.

“The company wants to be able to provide our consumers with organic products from a recognized premium label,” John says. “The overall response from consumers is driving up the demand within all sectors of organic, including fresh vegetables.”

And fresh vegetables are something Tanimura & Antle is well-known for. It’s that solid foundation, John explains, that the team launched off of when shaping its organic direction.

“The company wants to be able to provide our consumers with organic products from a recognized premium label. The overall response from consumers is driving up the demand within all sectors of organic, including fresh vegetables.”
—John McKeon, Senior Manager of Organic Compliance, Tanimura & Antle


“Tanimura & Antle’s harvest impact in the field, cool, ship-oriented business is already among the best. As a result we didn’t run too far from that model in the planning of organics. It has remained consistent with the company’s effort to do what we do and do it well,” John says.

Both explain, too, that pressures in transportation and the supply chain have necessitated a one-stop-shop to serve the organic and conventional needs of retail and foodservice customers. The growth has also added to demand from consumers for even more organic options and, in turn, retailers.

“Tanimura & Antle was getting requests from customers to have organic as well as conventional supply. Our customers, retailers namely, certainly tuned in to that need—suddenly you get every retailer and wholesaler asking every one of their grower/shippers if they’ve got organics, creating that volume that we’ve seen play out over the last five-plus years,” John emphasizes.

With that growth seeming to be on an endless trajectory, Chris and John explain tracks have been laid to continue to grow Tanimura & Antle’s organic offerings, as well as conventional, along with it.

“We are working on more strategic and focused, long-term developments—how to bring new crops, fulfill acreage requirements, and other demands to fruition. Tanimura & Antle strategically understands that growth pattern and is highly emphasizing building that organic program up and getting it, year-over-year, to match the growth of the sector itself.”

Looking forward, I ask about the plans Chris, John, and the rest of the Tanimura & Antle team have laid out for the expanding program, as well as what the company has learned in its debut year.

“In the first year, the program is bringing in new customers that come in for the organics but end up becoming, in some aspect, conventional buyers as well. That aspect of it is bringing in new business that we didn’t otherwise have. So, while some might have had initial concerns about organics in some way cannibalizing conventional business, it’s actually adding to that existing business,” Chris says, surprising me.

Organic Lettuce from Tanimura & Antle
As for what is on the horizon, the closing of an amazing chapter and the necessitated start of another have challenged Tanimura & Antle to look at how the company is steered. I speak, of course, to the loss of the company’s leader and late CEO, Rick Antle.

Under the direction of Scott Grabau, now CEO of Tanimura & Antle, Rick's legacy and strategic vision continues.

“Our mission statement is to consistently provide our customers with premium products and superior customer service that exceeds their quality and value expectations,” says Scott. “The success of our company is based on the long embedded culture and values of our employees, who understand this and apply themselves daily to execute our company mission. I have been fortunate to have worked in this environment for the last 16 years and all of our initiatives, including organics, have this same mission in mind.”

With an unshaking commitment to that mission while continually placing itself on the cutting-edge of our industry, Tanimura & Antle is forging a strong path toward a bright panorama on the organic frontier.

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