Purple broccoli and red corn isn’t just a marketing gimmick at Colorful Harvest — it’s the manifestation of a man’s desire to produce better tasting, more nutritious food for his daughter and millions of others plagued by food allergies.

Doug Ranno, 53, founder and managing partner of the Salinas, Calif., company, said he started thinking about a business plan for Colorful Harvest while he was still on staff with Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo. His daughter Gracie was in and out of the hospital as an infant, and when her food allergies were diagnosed it was an eye opener for Ranno, 53, and his wife, Tracy.

Doug Ranno, Colorful HarvestHe said they didn’t realize how many people must deal with food allergies and were stunned by numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showing 15 million Americans are allergic to foods.

“My plan was to grow for taste, color and nutrition, not volume,” Ranno said.

He put that plan into action when he founded Colorful Harvest in 2003.

“A lot of people had given up on colorful seed varieties. But while I was researching nutrition options for Gracie, I found you can get nutrients from different colored produce.”

Ranno said tricolored carrots weren’t just a hit with his daughter Gracie. Other children, including her older brother Dillon, found them fun to eat.

That’s when Ranno was sure he was on to something big. The company has grown from Ranno and one part-time employee to 20 employees at its Salinas headquarters, 24 in Mexico, and four to five planned for a new division in Florida.

He was well suited to develop Colorful Harvest, having begun working with produce at retail while he was still in school. He worked with Raleys/IGA in Sacramento, Calif., and then did a stint with Chiquita Brands International, where he worked as American produce vice president of business development.

Moving to Green Giant, Ranno helped that company develop and start new businesses. Then he was recruited by Wild Oats Markets, where he developed merchandising programs and the hub strategy of distribution for the 22-state chain.

Those 25 years of diverse experiences gave Ranno the advantage of understanding the full spectrum of the produce industry, which he put to use at Colorful Harvest.

“We do some growing,” Ranno said, “but we also source product and go all the way to the other end of the (supply chain) to diversify our risk.”

Berries were one of Colorful Harvest’s first signature items, Ranno said. Now the company has coolers in Florida, California and Mexico and more than 3,000 acres of strawberries. Ranno said his strawberries are darker red all the way through with a sweeter taste. The darker color is a sign of increased antioxidants, he said.

“I believe passionately if we all studied color in our diets and ate a wider variety we would be better off,” Ranno said.

Ranno said it hadn’t occurred to him that his company’s name would earn the level of brand recognition it has in such a short time. Top quality heirloom seeds and careful attention to growing practices are part of the winning equation, but Ranno has another trade secrete that he openly shares.

“I work with a tremendous group of people,” Ranno said. “Sometimes the best thing to do is discuss a problem and get more perspectives.

“My partner Tom Remick has been very understanding and helped harness me for the good. I got a lot of good counsel from Bob Hunt and Jeff Sholl over the years, too.”

As Colorful Harvest prepares to celebrate its first decade in business in 2013, Ranno said he just wants to “keep the chaos going.”

Part of that chaos is his industry involvement. Ranno has been and continues to be active with the Produce Marketing Association, the Fresh Fruit and floral Council, Produce for Better Health Foundation, United Fresh Business Development Council, Western Growers and several other groups.