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Tracking market influences keeps Sabroso competitive

Supplying fruit concentrate and puree to customers around the globe and still making a profit requires tracking a variety of influences on the world market.

Weather patterns, crop and soil conditions, currency value, geopolitics and competitors' activity are all factors in landing contracts and staying in business.

Craig Kirkpatrick, Sabroso Co.'s vice president of sales and marketing, can stroll down the aisles of the Grocery Outlet in Medford and extract a variety of details the casual shopper won't notice.

Juice and fruit drink labels tell what companies desire from their suppliers and ingredient lists on fruit bars explain what content of fruit is used.

The more preservatives, the less fresh it is, he says.

More importantly, when large shipments of juice or canned fruit end up on warehouse floors, it reveals that production, orders and demand were out of sync.

What you see are mistakes, Kirkpatrick says. Either there was too much product and the shelf life is running out, or there were overruns.

Cases of canned Australian pears reflect too much product on the market, especially since South Africa, New Zealand and Asian countries are growing fruit for export to many of the same buyers.

Kirkpatrick watches supermarket advertisements not with an eye for shopping bargains, but for what it may mean at the office.

If they're promoting low prices, they're sure to come after us for lower prices, he says. Retailers have most of the power when it comes to commodity prices; it used to belong to the manufacturers.

Commodity competition has proliferated to the point where retailers can play global regions against one another. Apricots, for example, once came primarily from California. Today the Golden State is pitted against Turkish and Argentine producers.

Whoever deals with retailers has to walk a fine line between being competitive and making an acceptable profit.

Sometimes, the retailer may say, 'We're not going to pay more than this, if you can't deliver it at that price, don't bother,' Kirkpatrick says. Other times, we say 'If you want product, here's the price.' But in agriculture, more often there's oversupply rather than short supply.

Years ago, baby food makers raised the tracing bar, carefully detailing the source of their ingredients from the ground to the container. Kirkpatrick says health-conscience consumers and terrorism concerns have led manufacturers to similarly trace other food products as well.

The desire for natural product bodes well for us, he says. When there's no sugar, then it means it's all apple.