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What If We Only Had Organic Fruit?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 13, 2007

When Stemilt announced a redesign of its shipping cartons, we thought it interesting and discussed the new cartons here because the new, more attractive, cartons had been made possible by new, less expensive, printing technology. This technology opened the door for shippers to upgrade their carton graphics and, in turn, for the industry to have a more effective merchandising tool.

Now Stemilt has announced that it will transition 100% of its peach and nectarine crops into organic production, as well as about half of its apricots.

In 2003 Stemilt joined with Douglas Fruit Co. to jointly pack and market all of the two companies’ peaches, nectarines, apricots and pluots, and both companies’ fruit is part of this organic transition.

Stemilt is estimating that once the three-year organic transition is completed, it will market about 1.5 million packages of organic summer fruit each year, which will account for about 70% of Washington’s total peach, nectarine, apricot and pluot crop.

Although Stemilt is particularly driven by environmental concerns, having launched its Responsible Choice program way back in 1989, its motivations are subtle. Its Mission Statement is highlighted by this phrase:

Maximize long-term return to the land by building consumer demand.

It is a sophisticated statement. The goal is to maximize long-term returns to growers, and building consumer demand is a mechanism to achieve the goal.

This announcement of a switch to organic is an indication that Stemilt anticipates a higher return to the grower through the production and sale of organic product than through conventional product.

To help assure this, Stemilt has introduced both an Artisan Naturals and an Artisan Organic label. The Artisan Naturals label will be used for transitional product and the actual organic product, of course, will go in the Artisan Organic label.

Basically Stemilt is trying to smooth the transition of almost a complete industry to organic.

If other Washington State growers follow this move, there will eventually be little if any conventional product to price against — a situation existing nowhere else in the country.

One wonders how price sensitive the market really is? Do people not buy organic because it is objectively too expensive or do they not buy it because in comparison with conventional product, it is too expensive?

If we wait three years, we may find out.

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