Sunkist was in its 85th year of successful operation as the citrus industry's oldest and largest marketing cooperative when its growers welcomed California-Arizona Farm Press, now renamed Western Farm Press, to their mailboxes in 1978.
While the intervening 25 years have brought many ups and downs, including exotic pest outbreaks, major freezes and loss of marketing orders, Sunkist continues to evolve and change to meet new challenges.
Today, as it enters its 110th year, Sunkist's 6,000 grower-members in California and Arizona look forward to operating as successfully in the 21st century as it did throughout the 20th and in the beginning of the 19th — with a financially strong organization and farsighted leaders.
Clearly, Sunkist's most valuable asset is its name. The brand is recognized by 97 percent of the individuals queried in recent surveys. Consumers tell us they can count on Sunkist for consistent quality. With the wide range of citrus grown by members, retailers, wholesales and foodservice operators count on Sunkist for dependable, year-around supplies.
Sunkist members are not surprised at the extremely high name recognition numbers. They have invested in advertising the Sunkist brand since 1907. Stickered labels bearing the name are attached to first grade quality fruit sold in domestic and export markets.
And for more than 25 years, Sunkist has licensed companies worldwide to use the Sunkist trademark on a wide range of products. Products such as juices, carbonated beverages, candies and vitamins further promote brand awareness in consumers' eyes. Royalties from these contracts have earned millions of dollars for Sunkist growers, further reducing the member-owners costs for operations and capital improvements.
While change is constant and not always predictable, current members can thank their predecessors for wise decisions. Just as it was in 1893 when 60 growers banded together for a greater voice in the marketplace, Sunkist's mission is to market all members' fruit for the highest possible returns.
A federated cooperative, Sunkist does not own the packinghouses that supply it with product. These affiliated facilities are owned by membership cooperatives or private companies licensed to do business with Sunkist. Company policies are set by a board of directors elected by growers through fruit exchanges that process orders and coordinate sales through Sunkist's Sherman Oaks headquarters.
Impacted by change
Just as in other segments of agriculture, citrus producers are impacted by retail consolidation, increasing imports and world competition for export sales. They're also challenged to meet consumers' demands for quick, convenient foods they can eat on the run.
At its annual meeting Feb. 19, Sunkist President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Gargiulo urged growers to stay abreast of these fast-breaking external shifts by staying united and being open to change. He called strategic planning a shared responsibility between growers, the board and management.
“We need to make change to keep up with the fast-paced world. We need to understand the changing market — the produce mix, global opportunities and shelf space demands,” Gargiulo said.
Unsurprisingly, Sunkist is still evolving. The organization has weathered many storms over the years, but its commitment to quality has not changed. As Board Chairman Al Williams stressed in his annual meeting remarks, “No matter what future marketing policy decisions are made, Sunkist must never waiver in its promise to our buyers and consumers that the citrus we deliver is of unquestioned quality.”