Califia Farms Named Beverage Forum’s Company of the Year in the Small Company Category ($1BB in revenue or less)

Califia Farms, a leading plant-based beverage company, was recognized as Beverage Forum’s Small Company of the Year – for companies with $1 billion in revenue or less — by Beverage Industry Magazine and the Beverage Marketing Association. Califia Farms CEO Dave Ritterbush accepted the award and gave a keynote address at the annual event that brings together industry leaders to discuss the future of the beverage marketplace. “We’re honored by this recognition for the brand Califia has built over the last 10 years and where we are going in the future,” said Dave Ritterbush, CEO of Califia Farms. “With nearly two in five households buying plant-based dairy alternativesii, Califia is uniquely positioned to provide consumers with the healthy, delicious beverages they are seeking. He added, “We remain committed to creating a future where plants replace dairy without compromise.”

Califia Farms was chosen as the Small Company of the Year based on its impact on the beverage industry.  “Califia Farms is a true innovator in the beverage space,” said Michael Bellas, chairman and CEO of Beverage Marketing Corporation. “Califia continues to expand its line of dairy alternatives with unique and on-trend products like Protein Oat and its latest Barista Blend releases: Mushroom Oat and Hemp.”

About Califia Farms (pronounced “Cal-ih-FEE-ah” like California)
Inspired by the bounty of California, Califia Farms is on a mission to nourish the world with the wisdom of a plant-based lifestyle. The company creates innovative, healthy and great-tasting premium beverages that make it easy for consumers to go plant-based and dairy-free, without compromise. Califia Farms is one of the fastest-growing natural beverage companies in the U.S., as well as the leading brand in the natural products plant-based milks category.

Founded in 2010 by beverage visionary, Greg Steltenpohl, in partnership with a farmer’s co-op based in the San Joaquin Valley, Califia Farms is a uniquely California company. Its Bakersfield, Calif. manufacturing plant is powered 100% by renewable energy and re-purposes more than 90% of its post-production byproduct.

2021’s Best California Wine Counties

California is the nation’s wine garden and wine cellar, but which counties produce the most award-winning reds and whites, host the most wine tours, and are most popular and affordable for wine connoisseurs to visit?

Is Napa County tops in all categories? Nada. Napa didn’t even produce the most award-winning wines in 2019-2020.

LawnStarter ranked California’s counties on the number of wine producers, wine tours, and award-winning wines. We also looked at wine tour reviews and the number and price ranges of hotels and B&Bs around the wineries.

Below, check out our ranking of wine counties in the Golden State, highlights and lowlights, and experts commenting on what makes California wines so special.


How a Central California winery uses worms in wine production

Worms are helping a Valley winery on its path to becoming more green. Olympic-sized swimming pools at O’Neill Winery are actually beds filled with worms helping the company become greener. “Our technology at BioFiltro, what it is is the star of the show is the worm. Ultimately, the worms are known as an ecosystem or environmental engineers,” said Mai Ann Healy, BioFiltro spokesperson.

BioFiltro, an international company, was able to go through Fresno State’s Valley Ventures program that focuses on water, engineering and technology businesses. The worms are known for converting waste or organic matter. Water is spread across the worm beds and goes through levels of wood chips, river rocks, drainage cells and exit pipes. “So within four hours, our worms are getting fed, getting full and also producing more microbes and bacteria that’s furthering helping us reduce and convert waste into beneficial byproducts,” Healy said.

The technology allows the company to take about 80 million gallons of processed water and clean it. O’Neill Winery is the seventh-largest winery in California. They produce wines and spirits sold around the United States. “So what we are trying to do is provide a sustainable process so that we can have a facility that is environmentally stewards, that is reducing our carbon footprint, reducing/minimizing our waste,” said Phil Castro, senior director of winery operations. O’Neill said they’ve taken steps to be more green with solar energy and the BioFilitro system.

They’re able to save water and use that for crop irrigation and reduce the amount of water they use. “So we can ensure for generations to come that there’s water available to continue the great process of agriculture,” Castro said. A sustainable process and technology thriving here in the Valley.

Japanese ag firm settling into new Valley residence

With spring also blooms a company that has taken root in the Central Valley in recent years. Manda Fermentation USA Inc., the US brand of Manda Fermentation Co., Ltd., a Japanese organic food manufacturer founded in 1987, has expanded its presence in the San Joaquin Valley since it first made connections with the state of Fresno in 2019.

Through a series of business launches, Manda leaders were made aware of the valley’s agricultural wealth and potential. While things started with research and development – attempts to figure out how mandas products can aid in harvesting and harvesting – the company has since expanded into growing a variety of crops in the Central Valley for markets across the nation and arrive around the world. It participates in community test gardens, brings its products to more local stores, and joins the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

Clay Gilpin, market development manager at Manda USA, said the Covid-19 pandemic had delayed some of the company’s planned outreach activities, but there was a positive trend that emerged during the lockdowns. According to an analysis of the monthly U.S. retail census report from Breck’s, an online Dutch flower and garden store, the gardening industry saw sales surge despite the pandemic. Building materials and garden retail sales increased 8.6% between spring 2019 and spring 2020. “We made gardening a very popular hobby because people stayed at home – that ties in with the trend of people growing their own food and wanting to know where the food is coming from,” said Gilpin.

Manda USA sees new demographics as they target different customers. Manda has its fertilizer product Manda Harvest in local stores, including Alert-O-Lite’s new garden section, a True Value and a central fish market. Central Fish may be shipping mandas fermented food supplements in the future. Currently, Manda USA sells its larger fertilizer products direct to farmers for local use in almonds, blueberries and citrus fruits. It will also be used for olives in the near future.

In areas outside the Central Valley, Manda works with rice, walnuts, canola, corn and cannabis, among other things. Cannabis responded very well to Manda’s fertilizer products and produced larger buds on the plant. Gilpin said the company hopes to get involved as cannabis cultivation increases in our area. Manda has also tested its products at Community Life Garden, an organic community garden in Reedley. Manda has several test fields that demonstrate the effects of Manda Harvest on crops such as potatoes, onions, zucchini and radishes. The fertilizer is free to farmers who wish to use it for their crops, and most of the food grown in the garden is donated to a faith-based food bank.

Gilpin said the company is trying to keep in touch with the Ag community and beyond, which is why joining the Fresno County Farm Bureau has served as a valuable resource. “Your publications are very helpful in giving us an insight into what is going on in the marketplace, especially here in Fresno County,” said Gilpin. “It’s a way to create press releases and talk to the community. After all, we want to advertise in these publications because they reach our target market – farmers who grow organically. “

Plans to build a facility in the Central Valley, possibly for an administration office, have been postponed due to Covid-19, but Gilpin said the company is still open to a number of possible partnerships and locations elsewhere. There are visions of creating a kind of hub at the farmers’ market with other companies to join Manda’s local efforts. Gilpin said Manda USA is trying to provide the resources to grow better food while making more money in the process. “I can imagine that this will also happen in Fresno if we find the right partners and the right location,” said Gilpin. “Given our mission and the nature of our business, we would likely try revitalizing an older building and building it in an area like downtown Fresno or the Tower District to implement those ideas.”


Glen & Cellar — a premium natural food products firm headquartered in Ireland’s Tipperary County — has selected Manteca as its base to break into the United States market. The venture represents a co-op of  Ireland artisan cheese producers that has been working for the past 2½ years with City of Manteca Economic Development Manager Don Smail  to distribute its products to American  consumers.

The lure of Manteca is three-fold. *Manteca had a shuttered cheese factory with an expansive area in place to store and age up to 1,600 pallets of cheese wheels. *It is midway between Seattle and San Diego just off Interstate 5 that serves one of their four targeted American regional markets. *It is close to a point of entry via the Port of Oakland.

Glen & Cellar is taking what could be a four phased approach. The first test shipment arrived Thursday night at San Francisco International Airport. It cleared customs and initially was shipped to Sunnvalley Meats due to the need of an established American firm to receive the goods. The company is now distributing samples to potential retail vendors as well as a number of ecommerce sites. It already has a deal in place with — a high price point specialty gourmet food website. Glen & Cellar cheese will soon be available via that site. Smail said while COVID-19 issues delayed plans for the firm to break into the American market, the shift in shopping habits during the pandemic has made consumers more receptive to having food shipped to their homes.

Shipping directly to American retailers from Ireland is problematic for several reasons. First it would take weeks to do so. The other issue is the dearth of refrigerated storage in Ireland. This way once enough cheese is produced to fill a temperature controlled shipping container it starts what can be a six to eight weeks or longer journey to Oakland. Even if the cheese is delayed in route, nothing is lost as it is aging. The co-op produces more than a hundred varieties of cheese. Among the first samples being distributed are cheddar, gouda, and emmental. Glen & Cellar is also working with European producers with the goal of selling hundreds of various artisan cheese varieties produced on farms on the Continent. They deal only with producers that grass feed their cows.

As the firm ramps up its retail network that expect will include e-commerce sites as well as specialty delis, they will start shipping temperature controlled containers  that can hold 22,000 pounds of cheese. They will be shipped via the Panama Canal to the Port of Oakland. They will then be taken to the former Cal Suprema Cheese plant on North Airport Way just north of Crothall Laundry Services and south of 5.11 Tactical. The cheese plant had a large refrigerator area expansion completed just before  closing  15 years ago. It is large enough to hold 1,600 pallets stacked with cheese. The goal is to have the cheese age for roughly 18 months in Manteca. Then it would be cut, wrapped and shipped to customers. Given there is a 25 percent tariff on imported cheese, the company’s business plan uses the aging process to its advantage.

How it works is simple. If the cheese is 2 months old when it arrives in Oakland, it could be valued at $5 per pound. Since cheese grows in value as it ages, at 18 months it could be worth $12. Under existing law when the product is actually sold it is taxed at the value that it was when it entered the country. The Manteca location would double initially as an aging, cutting, and packaging facility as well as a West Coast distribution center to retailers. It would also supply packaged cheese to three other regional distribution centers in the country. The company hopes to eventually start making artisan cheeses in Manteca. If it does they will employ a process mandated in Ireland that eliminates the smell and prohibits the dumping of brine that creates havoc with underground water supplies due to its high salinity.

While firms such as Hilmar Cheese ship their brine to a de-salinization plant in Oakland, the Irish cheese concern has perfected a process that recycles the brine and adds what salt was lost in the cheese making process. Smail noted the brine they are using is more than  5 years old. That eliminates the odors that plagued Cam Suprema Cheese when it operated in northwest Manteca. It also Smail is hopeful that Glen & Ellen will get to a fourth phase involving retail sales from there Manteca location.


An acquisition by Sun-Maid will put the popular brand onto baby food aisles. Sun-Maid Growers of California announced Wednesday it will purchase Plum Organics, an organic baby food brand from Campbell Soup Co., according to a news release. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is expected to close this spring. Plum Organics offers food and snacks for babies and children.

This will be the first business acquisition in Sun-Maid’s 109-year history. “Plum is a natural fit for the Sun-Maid family given our expertise, leadership and rapid growth in healthy snacking, along with our strong emotional connection with family households,” said Harry Overly, CEO and president of Sun-Maid, in a statement. “Its acquisition is an integral part of our continued dedication to providing superior products while delivering category growth.” Chris Foley, Campbell’s president of Meals & Beverages, said, “The sale of the Plum Organics baby food brand is part of our ongoing strategic process to create even greater focus on driving growth in the division’s core categories of soup, sauces and beverages.”

Plum Organics was founded in 2007 by a group of parents on a mission to give the very best food to their little ones, according to a news release. Campbell acquired Plum in 2013. Sun-Maid was advised in the deal by Cascadia Capital. Campbell was advised by Evercore. Overly took the reins of Sun-Maid in 2017 with a dedication to bring dried fruit back to popularity.

In a recent presentation to Fresno Rotary Club members, Overly spoke on the decline of dried fruit. “Our brand has almost skipped a generation because they weren’t innovating and communicating,” Overly said. Under Overly’s control, the brand updated its logo, which he said is the most recognizable in the business. They also have launched new products including flavored raisins and yogurt-covered raisins to renew interest in the fruit. Overly said they’re trying to reimagine the dried fruit aisle and make it more of an attraction.

At the production end, Overly said the company has updated its pricing model to better reflect market prices to its cooperative of approximately 750 growers. Previous pricing models had established prices before markets determined where demand existed. Globally, the United States has lost out in market share to countries such as Iran, Turkey and China. In 2018, U.S. volume share was over 18%. By 2020, that share had dipped below 16%.,Campbell%20Soup%20Co.%2C%20according%20to%20a%20news%20release.

Hanford, CA’s Central Valley Meat Betting Big On Beef With Expansion

Central Valley Meat wants to do a two-phase expansion of its beef processing plant in Hanford and has applied to Kings County for a conditional use permit. The big plant already processes about 1,500 head of cattle a day.

According to the application filed earlier this year, the company plans to increase the capacity three-fold to 4,500 head a day. The facility is located just off of Highway 198 at the urban edge of Hanford, putting jurisdiction for permitting with the county.

County planner Kao Nou Yang says the process is in an early stage in environmental review, just now receiving comments from stakeholders including the city and the California Department of Transportation.

Planning Commission approves solar farm application

Lemoore’s largest employer, Leprino Cheese Co, has filed plans to build a 32 acre,10 megawatt solar farm just west of their big plant. Panels will be ground mounted. The city Planning Commission recently approved the application that will help cut the power bill at one the the largest cheese manufacturing facilities in the US. 10MW of power is enough to light up some 2500 homes.

The Lemoore West facility employs 1,000 team members, its size is equal to 11 football fields with over 640,000 square feet of cheese making capacity. Just how much of the daily power needs will be met by the solar farm is not known but it is thought to be substantial. In addition, having an on-site power source could offer the plant energy security in case of rolling grid blackouts.

In the past five years, the price of solar has declined some 45% says the Solar Energy Industry Association. Another incentive is the extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), where PV system owners qualify to offset tax payments owed to the IRS in an amount equal to 26% of the eligible cost basis of a solar photovoltaic system until the end of 2022.

California approves grants to food processors for similar systems to help food processors reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.


Central Valley Meat wants to do a two-phase expansion of its beef processing plant in Hanford and has applied to Kings County for a conditional use permit. The big plant already processes about 1,500 head of cattle a day. According to the application filed earlier this year, the company plans to increase the capacity three-fold to 4,500 head a day. The facility is located just off of Highway 198 at the urban edge of Hanford, putting jurisdiction for permitting with the county.

County planner Kao Nou Yang says the process is in an early stage in environmental review, just now receiving comments from stakeholders including the city and the California Department of Transportation. “The project will be heard by the county planning commission with a public hearing but not any time soon,” said Yang. She adds the county has not yet determined the extent of the environmental review.

Fruit breeders plant seeds of global success

Large investments are being made in the high-tech labs and experimental ag fields where Kern County scientists breed new varieties of fruit to help farmers around the world adapt to shifting consumer tastes, developing markets and changing climates. Two local operations whose intellectual property accounts for varieties covering tens of thousands of acres have recently poured money into new, state-of-the-art research facilities in Wasco and McFarland. One recently opened and the other is under development.

The physical expansions at Sun World and International Fruit Genetics are another positive sign for a local food-innovations industry that, since being spawned by local growers such as carrot giant Bolthouse Farms, has grown to employ dozens of highly educated specialists. Work done at these innovation facilities is not genetic modification, per se, but conventional cross-breeding of plants to bring out desirable traits ranging from a crisp crunch to a long shelf life. The activity is increasingly important to the future of global agriculture, said the president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, Ian LeMay. He said Kern County is fortunate to have some of the field’s major players.

After decades in which industry concerns dominated, such as a variety’s ability to withstand long shipments, he said growers now must respond to consumers’ ever-more sophisticated demands for grapes with a certain flavor or an apricot with just the right blush. The task becomes more complicated when considering that tastes vary significantly depending where the fruit is sold. “You have growers now really looking and listening to what that consumer demand is and making appropriate decisions to plant what’s in high demand,” LeMay said.

The same holds true for farmers looking to increase their yield per acre and reduce the amount of cold weather their orchards need to produce properly. LeMay said fruit breeders help address these kinds of challenges. Kevin Andrew, senior vice president at Bakersfield-based farming company Illume, which plants varieties developed by Sun World and IFG, said local fruit-breeding has created noticeable improvements in fruit. He recalled telling someone years ago that if grapes tasted better, sales would rise. “Sometimes the box had more flavor than the grapes,” said Andrew, a former chief operating officer at Sun World. He added that new flavor profiles seem to have actually changed consumer preferences.

While much of Sun World’s and IFG’s efforts are focused internationally, local shoppers may recognize some of the company’s innovations. IFG came up with the table grape variety that tastes like cotton candy, for example, and Sun World’s corporate lineage introduced the first seedless watermelons, sweet red peppers and vine-ripened tomatoes. Sun World, based in Palm Desert with a substantial local presence, was founded in the mid-1970s in Bakersfield as a packer and marketer of fresh produce. Its acquisition in 1989 of Superior Farming Co., a substantial local landowner at the time, gave Sun World its start in fruit breeding.

After a series of corporate changes including its 2013 purchase by Los Angeles investment firm Renewable Resources Group, which still owns the company, Sun World sold the last of its food-production operations in May 2019 to tighten its focus on fruit breeding. That kind of work used to be done in the Fresno area by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and by the University of California. But as public investment in the activity has waned, Sun World President and CEO David Marguelas said, private industry has stepped up. Focused on table grapes and stone fruit, the company now has more than 300 registered trademarks and licenses 1,700 growers in places like Chile, Israel, South Africa and Spain.

It has gone from zero licensed acres of planted crops in 2001 to 12,000 acres in 2010 and about 50,000 this year, Marguleas said, adding the company charges a percentage of royalties based on the quantity of fruit produced and sold by its licensees. He said the company has 30 employees stationed around the globe to help farmers maximize their yields and produce consistent quality. Sun World’s new Wasco research facility, at 17,000 square feet, is four to five times larger than its previous facility nearby. It’s surrounded by 160 acres of farmland used for research and development.

The company’s team of about 20 chemists, biologists and molecular scientists evaluates as many as 70,000 seedlings a year. Of that, only two or three table grape varieties emerge on the market, along with half a dozen stone-fruit varieties, Marguleas said. “It’s a very imprecise process, which results in a lot of eventual precision,” he said, “in that we’re looking for just the right, perfect new seedless grape, the perfect red-fleshed plum with loads of natural sugar and antioxidants and the perfect apricot with a nice sort of blush and wonderful apricot aroma.” He estimated that the process of coming up with a new variety takes eight to 10 years. What’s sometimes tricky, Marguleas said, is looking into the “proverbial crystal ball” to anticipate what consumers will look for a decade from now. A company goal that doesn’t rely on guessing, he said, is coming up with fruit that can be grown in more environmentally sustainable ways, requiring fewer soil amendments, chemicals and water.

IFG, a friendly local competitor of Sun World, was founded in 2001 by a former Sun World plant breeder. With offices in Bakersfield and a research center in Delano, IFG’s focus has been on improving consumers’ experience on eating grapes, raisins and cherries, CEO Andy Higgins said. Having outgrown its existing buildings and fields, the company bought land this year in McFarland, where it has already begun planting experimental varieties and expects to begin construction in spring on four buildings totaling about 35,000 square feet.

The project will add space for cold storage, administration, training, post-harvest evaluation and a full laboratory. Part of the idea, Higgins said, is to make the company more attractive for the sake of bringing in top talent. It currently employs about 20 scientists, he added. IFG licenses its varieties to farmers in 14 countries combining for more than 70,000 acres of trademarked produce. It has 45 patented varieties and more than 1,000 licensees.

Though table grapes have been a mainstay, Higgins said, raisins have become a focus because of industry demand for new varieties. There’s also been an emphasis on cherries because changing weather patterns have created a need for trees that don’t require as many “chill hours” to produce quality fruit. Higgins said the company is happy to help. “We’re proud to be a part of the community and doing these things that are ultimately changing the world’s perception of a major category” of produce, he said.,planted%20crops%20in%202001%20to%2012%2C000…%20More%20