Organic opportunity

05/01/2007 02:00:00 AM

Mesh says organic citrus is a market Florida producers would have a great opportunity to fill.

"I believe the demand for organic citrus in Florida has exceeded the supply for many years," he says. "The potential for organic citrus is huge."

At Pacific Tomato, Spence says demand is still outpacing supply on a year-round basis with the company's organic grape tomato supply.

The company started shipping organic grape tomatoes under the Sunripe label in 12-count, 1-pint clamshells a little over a year ago, Spence says. The tomatoes are available year-round from Pacific Tomato's production operations in Palmetto-Ruskin; Immokalee; Melva, Va.; and Cecil, Ga.

Another company that packs the Sunripe label, Pacific Collier Fresh Co., Immokalee, started packing and shipping organic green and yellow squash, cucumbers and bell peppers late last year, Spence says.

Christopher Grallert, vice president of marketing and sales for Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, says 30 percent of the company's business is in organics.

"We plan to grow organic production significantly as demand increases," Grallert says.

Santa Sweets is the growing division of Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia, with acreage in Florida, North Carolina, California and Mexico. For five years, the company has offered organic versions of its grape, UglyRipe, round, roma and cherry tomatoes, Grallert says.

The company also offers three organic melons grown in Mexico: the Can-A-Dew, Can-A-Sweet and miniature watermelon.

Grallert says he thinks that because crops grow slower under organic conditions, the result is better pest resistance, longer shelf life and enhanced taste.

Why incur the additional costs?

The bottom line is, organics cost more to produce.

"Granted, the inputs are higher," Lutz of Perishables Group says. "Consumers recognize that and are willing to pay more for organics."

Pacific Tomato's Spence says the cost to produce organic produce runs from 30 percent to 100 percent more than the company's conventional crops. He said weather and location are major factors affecting growing costs.

"The more we learn about it, the more we can control," he says. "It depends on what the market provides and if you can still make money."

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