Garlic has been one of the items that has seen a spike in sales as the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has resulted in more people cooking at home with the pungent bulb a relatively easy way to spice up home-cooked meals.
“We have seen a decline in foodservice sales but the demand at retail has more than made up for it,” said Ken Christopher, executive vice president of the family-owned Christopher Ranch, based in Gilroy, CA.
He said demand for garlic has been up 25-30 percent this year with organic garlic demand following suit. This increased demand since the shelter-in-place rules started to take effect in March has stressed the supply situation, but with the 2020 harvest underway and grading out very well, Christopher said the supply/demand curve is back in alignment.
He revealed that the pack out of number one garlic — sold as fresh bulbs at retail — can vary greatly. The 2019 season was not a particularly good one with the top-quality bulbs accounting for only about 50 percent of the harvest.
“This year, we are seeing great numbers with 80 to 90 percent number ones, which is just what we need right now,” he said.
Christopher noted that the California garlic season comes in two waves each year. Harvest of the early-season garlic began around June 10, with the late-season garlic beginning its harvest near the end of July. Early season production typically accounts for about 15 percent of the annual volume with the bulk coming with the late season varieties. The volume is then sold from storage throughout the ensuing 12 months.
This season, Christopher Ranch is anticipating a California harvest of about 100 million pounds, with about 10 percent of that being organic garlic. Ken Christopher said if those numbers bear out, the company will be able to supply its customers with California garlic — both conventional and organic — for the next 12 months. Christopher Ranch will and does source from other countries to take care of specific demands from its customers with regard to price and the various value-added uses of garlic, including peeled and crushed.
The company prides itself on being a California producer and being able to offer California-grown product all year long. Because the 2019 pack out had a lower percentage of number ones, Christopher said the organic garlic supply was not sufficient to get through the entire year.
China is the world’s largest producer of garlic and it typically has a significant share of the U.S. market. Christopher said the coronavirus issue has reduced the supply of Chinese garlic further exacerbating the supply/demand relationship during the first half of this year. He added that negative publicity about China and its trade war with the Trump Administration has also reduced demand for Chinese garlic and increased demand for California-grown garlic with what Christopher called “rally around the flag” demand.
Chinese garlic, which is lower priced, tends to have greater demand as a peeled or processed product for foodservice operators and suppliers. This year’s worldwide reduction in foodservice-prepared meals has no doubt curtailed demand for that processed product. Christopher said that this year’s high concentration of top grade garlic couldn’t have come at a better time. He noted that California has had exceptional garlic growing weather with winter and early spring weather producing sufficient cold units at night and then a nice warming trend in mid to late spring to help size the bulbs.