Looking at its worldwide success, it’s easy to assume Kirschenman Enterprises has gone corporate, but President Wayde Kirschenman insists that is not the case. “In general, people in the United States talk about big Midwestern wheat and corn farms going more corporate, so everybody thinks California is going more corporate, too,” he says. “Most of the large table grapes, peaches and nectarines are grown by big families. In fact, many of my competitors are my friends who have large families.”
It’s the exact type of family he has. Wayde’s grandfather, Ed Kirschenman, started the business in the late 1930s and passed away in 1973. Wayde, who helped on the farm as a child, currently runs the company alongside his father, Wayne Kirschenman. Wayde attended California State University in Fresno, earning his degree in agriculture business. He brought his knowledge back to the farm where he has been ever since.
Over the years, Kirschenman watched the company transform from a potato farm to a multi-operation family business, adding grapes, watermelons, peaches, nectarines and cherries to its repertoire. It grows, harvests, packs, sells and distributes all these products. The company also produces carrots, walnuts, almonds and oranges, but deals with a third party for sale and distribution.
As the third generation of his family running the company, Kirschenman’s mission is to produce quality product at a fair price. Kirschenman consistently seeks new ways to grow, market and distribute. He says a misconception about his industry is that since people have to eat, farmers are always in a golden position. The business’ stability is all about supply and demand.
“People have to eat, but farmers can overproduce, leading to an oversupply in the market, making it more difficult for everyone else to sell,” he says. “Our goal is to find ways to grow quality crops on a budget while also being environmentally friendly.”
To keep on track with this mission, Kirschenman recently renewed its contract with CHEP, the global leader in pallet and container pooling services. CHEP produces containers and sturdier wood and plastic combination returnable and reusable pallets. The company delivers the pallets to Kirschenman for loading and delivers it to Kirschenman’s customers who also partner with the CHEP program. The customer returns the pallets to CHEP, which has a steady rotation of 300 million pallets continuously issued, collected, conditioned and reused.
Kirschenman joined CHEP five years ago when it wasn’t nearly as popular. However, with the blooming international interest in green living, he says more companies are conforming. “With wooden pallets, it’s a one-way trip where the customer disposes of it, often in a landfill,” Kirschenman says. “This is better for the environment because it results in less chopped down trees, and now most the major chain stores have also partnered with CHEP.”
CHEP benefits not only the environment, but it creates increased efficiency in cost reductions for Kirschenman, a crucial aspect in an inflated industry. “One thing happening to farms right now is high inflation,” Kirschenman says. “We might get more money than the last year, but the cost to grow is inflated. When the cost associated with things like equipment and fertilizer go up, everything goes up.”
While prices rise, Kirschenman is determined to add consumer value. It evaluates and researches novel varieties of its produce, and fresh ways to market it. Its Rooster’s Pride Table Grapes are packed in clamshell containers as opposed to plastic bags. It makes the fruit easy to store, but harder to damage. The grapes are distributed nationally, but also exported to Asian markets such as China and India. The grapevines are constantly tended to, pruned and harvested at their optimum sugar and color.
Grapes have become Kirschenman’s second-best seller after potatoes. The potatoes are grown year-round, yielding two sets of crops annually. Each year, the company spends nine months planting while harvesting concurrently for 11 months.
In its main potato markets of the United States and Canada, consumers find Kirschenman’s red, white and Yukon Gold potatoes, bagged separately or together to create variety and efficiency. “We’ve started putting different types of potatoes in the same bag to make it fun and more appealing to the customer,” Kirschenman says.
No matter how it’s bagged, Kirschenman Enterprises only produces as many potatoes as it can sell, just as it does with all its products. This keeps overhead low and profits high, Kirschenman says.
“Like other farms in California, we are really hands on and have been around for a long time,” Kirschenman says. “Hopefully, one day my children will grow up and follow the family tradition and be part of the farm, too.”