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Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

Even Captain America calls for backup.

It’s no secret that collaboration has been the spark of many of the world’s greatest creations and accomplishments. Just as the star-spangled superhero leans on the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to fight intergalactic crime, Limoneira has built a formidable team of expert suppliers to back its own Herculean effort to bring high-quality citrus varieties to produce departments around the world.

Wielding a diverse network of growers from key regions around the globe, the citrus provider’s One World of Citrus™ program is a living, breathing depiction of what “strength in numbers” truly means in the fresh produce industry.

Reflecting on the program’s colossal success since it was first established, Alex Teague, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, settles into the chair at his desk in Santa Paula, California, and shines a light on some of the driving forces behind the rise of this innovative citrus operation.

Peggy Packer: The One World of Citrus program seems to be ever-expanding, with continued growth that shows no signs of slowing down. How has the vision behind the program evolved since its inception over a decade ago?

Alex Teague, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Limoneira: What started as a niche lemon and citrus business plan has matured into a 52-week one-stop shop of citrus supplies, which we fully expect to continue growing. This exciting platform has added global citrus items to all the world markets; our multi-source, multi-market platform enables maximum service to both our customers and the orchards.

On the distribution front, we continue to press quickly on our value-added programs and forward distribution centers, which just makes the entire vision that much more dynamic—and, quite frankly, makes it fun and exciting for us. With the ability to add value closer to the customer, as well as have ready inventory for just-in-time delivery, we find a growing opportunity with many of our customers.

PP: I can only imagine how the success of the program has catalyzed growth on many different fronts for Limoneira. What advancements have you witnessed across both the team and Limoneira’s vast network of suppliers?

AT: This has been one of the most satisfying aspects of the One World of Citrus program. As the years have progressed, our North American team, including our associate producers, packers, and shippers, have seen the benefits of working with the crew in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa. It is the entire worldwide collective—from Chile and Argentina to South Africa, Peru, Mexico, and back here to the U.S.—that makes the complex work.

All of us in the produce industry have one common partner: Mother Nature. To say she is fickle is a vast understatement. However, by building trust through open communication and real information that is generated from the field and not an office somewhere, we are able to communicate with our customers and find solutions for everyone. While it is not perfect by its nature, we generally find that open dialog from the tree to the customer yields the best return for all.

PP: Backed by an incredible alliance of grower partners, Limoneira has been put in a prime position for operational expansion. How has the One World of Citrus program amplified the company’s production capabilities?

AT: We have grown from 5,000 acres of farming, packing, and selling just over a million cartons of lemons alone to over 15,000 acres of farming worldwide and selling over seven million cartons of lemons, oranges, mandarins, limes, grapefruit, and specialty citrus. Over our 128 years of existence, we have discovered that teaming up with other producers who have a similar philosophy has really benefited not only the fruit we grow, but the fruit of our associate partners all over the world.

It is the entire citrus basket that services the customer’s needs. While fresh produce is a supply-demand business, its daily activity is far from simple supply-demand theory. We have an internal expression of “simply complex.” That oxymoron illustrates the intense coordination it takes between all of our team members, not only in North America but in every market around the globe.

“ building trust through open communication and real information that is generated from the field and not an office somewhere, we are able to communicate with our customers and find solutions for everyone.”

- Alex Teague, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Limoneira

As the program continues to evolve, we’ve made significant developments, expanding our plantings and supply around the world—including conventional oranges, lemons, Mandarins, grapefruit, and limes—which help us fulfill our vision of being a 52-week specialty citrus supplier. Additionally, we have broadened our geographical footprint with the addition of partners and associates in the major growing regions of Chile, Mexico, South Africa, and Argentina, as well as a new sales office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to better serve our customers in Asia in real-time.

PP: A crucial aspect of that connectivity, I imagine, is logistics. As this becomes increasingly tougher due to persisting challenges across the industry, how has Limoneira been poised to handle these inevitable bumps in the road?

AT: I think all of us in the entire produce industry—and all world trade for that matter—have seen logistics become really stressed over the last 18-plus months. What once was a tight truck or container situation is now exacerbated into a virtual crisis-in-the-making of the flow of goods around the world. With the movement of containers disrupted by the pandemic last year in China, we have seen what happens when the delicate balance of the movement of containers is disrupted. Within a few short weeks of that occurring, our customers found it difficult to get space on ships headed to Asian markets. Luckily, the team was able to help in certain instances, but we missed market opportunities that we will never be able to get back. These logistical difficulties are not just on the seas; overland truck rates have skyrocketed as well.

With that in mind, we have begun to expand our transportation department as well as accelerate our forward distribution center plans. We have to get creative in finding the most efficient logistics to get to our customers. By teaming up with other citrus packers, we’ve found savings in that route.

Additionally, looking at long-term commitments and rates with national carriers is key for us to overcome the rising costs of logistics. Our dream is to have a rail system with sufficient service to be able to efficiently move fresh produce around the country. When it comes to citrus, we are lucky Mother Nature gave us a piece of fruit that is conducive to shipping long distances.

PP: It seems the vitality of this program has transformed Limoneira into a force to be reckoned with in the citrus sector. How does the One World of Citrus blueprint also promote the success of its buy-side partners?

AT: One World of Citrus has transported Limoneira into an international platform that has virtually unlimited growth. Every growing area in the world has difficulties. If it’s not water, it’s labor, or politics, or weather. The list is endless. However, by being present in virtually all the main citrus growing areas in the world, we are able to smooth out the highs and lows for everyone, including our buy-side partners. Those really high highs and really low lows do not help the supply-side nor the buy-side. With that in mind, we believe our model creates a win-win for everyone.

The potential for Limoneira, its network of growers, and its buy-side partners to optimize the citrus set is limitless as this dynamic alliance of providers dons their capes to reach new heights in fresh produce—each bringing their own might to an already, dare I say, marvelous operation.