Date: Sep 11, 2019
Magazine:
September/October 2019

Director Profile

Brandon Grimm

General Manager, Cal Organic Division

Grimmway Farms

Bakersfield, CA

Director Since 2019 | Member Since 1986

Company Background: Brothers Rod and Bob Grimm grew up in Orange County and were growers and marketers of sweet corn and other crops for about 15 years before moving the operation up to Bakersfield and becoming a leader in the carrot category. The Brothers Grimm built quite a legacy as the carrot kings of the world before each passed at an early age, Rod at 51 in 1998 and Bob at 54 in 2006. It was shortly thereafter that Bob’s oldest son, Brandon, joined the company on a full-time basis.

Born in Agriculture: When Brandon was born in late 1981, the Grimms were still based in Orange County, farming in several locations including San Juan Capistrano. Corn was their top crop but they had started exploring the carrot business. In 1983, the company moved its operations to Bakersfield and began its ascent up the carrot totem pole. Consequently, Brandon grew up in the southern San Joaquin Valley doing odd jobs on the farm and in the packing shed beginning when he was about eight or nine. He continued with the company on a part-time basis as he went through school, which included securing a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Concordia University back in Orange County. “I always expected that I would join the family business,” he says. “It is something I always wanted to do.”

Working his way up the ladder: Upon joining the company full time in that fateful 2006 year, Brandon started as an apprentice in the organic baby carrot program and worked his way up to operations manager. He also oversaw the frozen division. Several years later he joined the company’s robust organic division and was named general manager of that company sector three years ago.

As it is a family business, Brandon said several of his jobs over the years overlapped and he anticipates more responsibilities as he moves forward and gains experience about the different aspects that make up Grimmway Enterprises, which is the umbrella name for the organization.

The Baby Carrot Revolution:  It was the development of the baby carrot that vaulted Grimmway Farms to the top of the category and also pushed carrots into a major sales driver within the produce category. “In the early ‘90s, before the advent of baby carrots, per capita consumption of fresh carrots was around three pounds,” said Brandon. “Baby carrots moved consumption up to about nine pounds by about 2000. Since then, there has been a lot of activity in foodservice and we are now up to about 11-12 pounds per person.”

That phenomenal growth of 300 percent during the 1990s was built on the back of the value-added baby carrot pack during a time when nothing in the produce department was hotter than value-added.

Still a Carrot Company: Brandon is proud to reaffirm that Grimmway Farms is still, first and foremost, a carrot company. It has had tremendous growth in many others areas, including organic specialty crops, but carrots are always the driver. In fact, Brandon said Grimmway’s purchase of Cal-Organic Farms in 2001 was fueled by its need to have viable rotation crops in its carrot program. Carrots cannot be grown on the same ground year after year and need to be part of a rotation. Soil-building organic vegetables are often a perfect complement. In fact, the Grimms have turned almost all of the family’s land into organic production

The Future Looks Bright: California’s regulatory environment, labor availability, water shortages and increasing costs driven by minimum wage hikes are daunting challenges that have forced Grimmway Farms to look elsewhere to help augment its operations in the Golden State. The company has expanded into both the Northwest and Southeast to help it diversify. But just as at its core, the firm is a carrot company, it’s also a California company.

An Aging Workforce: While the four hurdles in the previous paragraph are cause for pause, Brandon said it is the aging workforce in agriculture that he believes is another large challenge facing the industry that can’t be overlooked. It is well-documented that farm laborers don’t raise their children to be farmworkers, but it is becoming equally apparent that the younger generation is not looking to agriculture for even skilled positions. “I see key people retiring and not a lot of people standing in line for those jobs,” he said.

He believes continued automation is one answer especially at the farm labor end of the spectrum. As far as professionals are concerned, he admits the drawback is that the ag industry isn’t perceived as “glamorous” as other professions. “At the end of the day, it is a function of supply and demand. To get the needed talent, we will have to get more creative.”

A Family Company: Grimmway Farms remains in the hands of the descendants of Rod and Bob with several family members working full-time and others on the company’s board of directors. Besides Brandon, brother Brett, 29, is also working for the Organic Division as a sales associate. His sister, Kellie Merriman is a registered nurse and on the board. He has two other brothers—Chase, 26, and David, 23, who are currently in college but could be joining the family team at some point down the road. In addition, three cousins from Rod’s wing, Bryan, Catie and Melissa, are also involved in the company by serving on the board.

A Family Man: Brandon met his wife, Katie, earlier this decade and they were married in 2013. They have been busy ever since, now sporting a family with three kids four years old or younger. Thomas is four, Clara is two and the newest addition, Alice, was born earlier this year. Katie still finds time to work part-time as an occupational therapist at a local hospital, and when Brandon isn’t engaged with the kids, he can be found cycling or horseback riding in Kern County’s rural environment.

Western Growers Connection: Brandon’s father, Bob Grimm, served on the Western Growers board for many years, including a stint as chairman of the board in 1998. “I have some very fond memories attending Annual Meetings with my dad when I was just a kid,” he said.

Brandon has continued his father’s tradition of being actively involved in the organization as he was a member of the Western Growers Future Volunteer Leaders Class III program. And when his dad’s old seat on the board became vacant following Grimmway’s Kevin Pascoe’s decision to step down, he said it was a natural fit to run for the position last year.

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