2008 was another billion-dollar year for Sunkist, the 11th in the past two decades which includes four freeze years, Sunkist President and CEO Russ Hanlin told more than 500 growers attending Sunkist Growers 115th annual meeting at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

“In 2008 our total revenues were up 8 percent over 2007 and at $839 million dollars payments were up 5 percent,” Hanlin said.

Because 2007 was a freeze year, Hanlin said these figures topped the pre-freeze 3-year average by 4 percent. The results are especially gratifying because they were achieved while not only dealing with a record navel crop but also while transitioning the sales organization to a more centralized structure.

Hanlin recapped the 2007-2008 season starting with the huge 95 million carton Navel crop and a Navel season that lasted from mid-October well into July.

“While as is typical, grower returns varied widely depending on fruit quality and size as well as the mix of domestic and export shipments each grower had,” Hanlin said. “The overall result was the best FOBs ever for a crop of this magnitude, and a respectable utilization percentage considering the long marketing window needed to work through a crop this size.”

The Sunkist president said the record Navel crop was followed by a large crop of Valencias that also presented marketing challenges which were exacerbated by record high fuel prices followed by the worst economic down turn in decades.

Lemons, he noted thankfully, were a different story.

“It was another one for the record books ... the highest FOB and revenue ever, exceeding the record set the prior year by $20 million and a pretty good 2006 by $60 million,” Hanlin said.

Helping the bottom line were ongoing improvements in Sunkist’s Citrus Juice & Oils operations, Hanlin added. In 2008 Sunkist completed the plant consolidation and now all citrus byproducts are processed at Sunkist’s Tipton plant, driving greater economies of scale and increased efficiencies.

“We are now the leading high-quality, low-cost producer on the West Coast and a top supplier of value-added citrus products,” Hamlin said.

He reminded growers that the industry is changing rapidly.

“Competition is increasing with offshore fruit impacting both domestic and traditional export markets in ever-expanding volumes with new trade agreements adding to that competitive equation,” Hamlin said. “Customers continue to consolidate, concentrating more and more purchasing power in fewer and fewer hands.”