More than 100 years ago, the same growers that had gotten together a decade before to form what would become the Sunkist Growers co-op, joined forces once again to form a co-op for the purchasing of wood material for their crates.
From that humble beginning grew Fruit Growers Supply, which has endured for 107 years devoted to providing growers with the supplies they need. The co-op has always been closely aligned with Sunkist but it is a separate company that has diversified significantly over that century, especially in the last couple of decades.
Recently, the senior management team including President Mark Lindgren and Vice President of Operations Ted Pajak talked to WG&S about the company’s growth and its plans to service the grower community for years to come. Like Western Growers, Sunkist and many other organizations, it was adversity that led to the start of Fruit Growers Supply. Around the turn of the previous century, fruit growers were finding it difficult to secure reasonably-priced box shook to produce the wooden crates they needed for shipping. Just as Western Growers was founded to create some buying power for vegetable growers as they dealt with the railroads, FGS was established to create the same leverage against the manufacturers of box shook.
The idea worked well and to this day FGS is still a supply co-op at its core.
However, diversification has been the co-op’s theme for the past quarter century. For the first 80 years of its life, FGS limited its sales to the co-op’s members filling needs as they arose, supplying wood crates, chemicals, corrugated cartons and other inputs deemed necessary for the production of citrus. It has branched out significantly and today more than 30 percent of its total sales are on the open market and that is the company’s fastest growing sector, according to Lindgren. The FGS president said the majority of that growth has come since the turn of this century and looking forward, it is the sector that will fuel future growth.
Today FGS is a very significant player in the manufacturing of pallets, skids, boxes, and corrugated containers. Lindgren said the vertically integrated company owns forest land and manufacturing plants, and will soon open its own sawmill.
The company owns and maintains more than 320,000 acres of forest land in California, Oregon, and Washington that are harvested utilizing best sustainable practices. In fact, the ground is planted in a new forest as soon as it is harvested, creating an ongoing cycle that can literally continue forever. Lindgren said that in 2015, FGS will open a new state-of-the-art sawmill in Yreka, CA. The mill will be a direct supplier to the company’s pallet and wood products division. The company says it can offer outstanding prices in its finished products because of the vertical integration of the firm.
The firm’s first corrugated plant was opened in 1961 which allowed the co-op to transition from wood crates to corrugated cartons as the citrus industry took that route. Lindgren said corrugated carton sales have been heavily weighted toward row crop production since the company opened up sales to all comers. Avocado cartons are also a significant category for FGS.
Combined with timberland and wooden product sales, FGS is actually a multi-faceted company. One big area of business is comprised of its retail stores. Today it has six retail outlets, again open to all shoppers, including the public. There are three in the San Joaquin Valley (Orange Cove, Woodlake, and Porterville), one in Santa Paula in Ventura County, and in Riverside. Of course, the business of each is dependent upon the agricultural sector that thrives in that community. The retail stores offer almost anything a grower needs in his operation from cartons to chemicals to sprinklers to virtually any other input.
The retail units also house FGS’ irrigation department, which designs and installs sophisticated irrigation systems for California’s growers and farmers. Each retail operation has its own irrigation experts working with the farm community serviced by that store.
Another service provided by FGS is wax coatings for all types of corrugated cartons.
Lindgren said that while FGS has a long history and has serviced thousands upon thousands of growers, it still flies under the radar in some respects.
“A lot of growers just don’t know all the services we provide,” he said. “They might know us as an irrigation specialist but aren’t aware that we also provide pallets. Our philosophy is anything you need we can get directly from the manufacturer.”
And the company president said growers should expect expansion from the firm in the coming years. While he would not reveal any specific plans, he said FGS has discussed adding retail outlets further north and west in California. He said opening a store in Oregon or Washington is also not out of the question. However, he indicated that international expansion, while possible, is “way down the line.”