Janice Gable Bashman reports on how Sun Pacific grows, packs and markets high-quality fruit that is considered some of the best produce in the world.
Successfully anticipating and meeting consumers’ needs is a difficult process, especially in the fruit industry where underproduction leads to shortages and overproduction leads to waste. Through extensive research, Sun Pacific has mastered this skill. “We have the right kind of fruit in the right place at the right time at the right volume,” says Barney Evans, vice president sales. “Achieving this goal was a critical factor in our ongoing success and has enabled us to become the largest independent packers of oranges in California, the largest Kiwi grower in North America, the largest grower of clementines in the United States, and the second largest grower of tomatoes in California. Our table grapes are also world renowned for their quality, and we are one of the premier table grape distributors in California in terms of quality and volume.”
Sun Pacific operates five packing houses and farms in excess of 20,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley of California. It sells 10 million 40-pound cartons of navel oranges throughout the world, with 70 percent domestic sales and 30 percent export to destinations such as Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Australia, and Southeast Asia. It also sells one million cartons of Valencia oranges, in excess of 25 million five-pound cartons of clementines, four million 19-pound boxes of table grapes, 750,000 kg equivalent of kiwi fruit, and 3.5 million 25-pound boxes of tomatoes.
For the past five years, Sun Pacific experienced approximately 10 percent growth per year except for last year when the freezing weather decreased production and cut into its profits. That’s pretty impressive for a company that began in Exeter, Calif. in 1969 with the purchase of 72 acres of navel oranges.
PUTTING PROFITS BACK INTO THE GROUND
In the beginning, navel oranges were Sun Pacific’s main commodity, and it focused its efforts on purchasing trees and ground that would produce the “best quality late season oranges that were available,” says Evans. “That put us in a position where we had good quality fruit when others didn’t have fruit or good quality. Customers around the world looked to us when others didn’t have the products they needed. We also put a lot of effort into farming fruit correctly. If you don’t have a good process to begin with, the resulting fruit is very difficult to sell. We grow and farm correctly, and the result is a very good product that is easy to sell.”
In 1976, Sun Pacific acquired its own packing house, which enabled it to become more vertically integrated – handling the fruit from the time it blooms, is picked, packed, and then sold. This allowed Sun Pacific to control each step of its operation for every item it sold. Prior to this, Sun Pacific relied on other companies, such as Pure Gold and Sunkist, to sell its fruit.
Another factor in its growth was obtaining investors and partnerships that allowed Sun Pacific to purchase additional land. It also reinvested its profits back into the company. “Instead of taking the profits we made and giving dividends to shareholders or taking it as income, we bought more property or packing houses,” Evans says. “We work as hard as we can and put our profits back into the ground so we can continue to grow for the next 100 years.”
The Sun Pacific Marketing Company was formalized in the mid-1980’s to help Sun Pacific control its sales by providing its products at the price it felt was appropriate rather than relying on outside companies to make this determination. It was during this time that Sun Pacific began its table grape division. In 1989, it built a grape cold storage facility, which allowed for rapid pre-cooling and computer-monitored grape storage.
Between the late 1980s and 1991, Sun Pacific joined forces with Sunkist once again, but by the fall of 1991 Sun Pacific went back out on its own. “That’s when we really started our growth,” says Evans. “We started to mushroom and bought a lot of property. And by the late 1990s, we decided to explore the clementine business. We knew we were losing sales in the navel orange business on the east coast but we didn’t know why. What we discovered was that Spain had started to export clementines to that area, and people were buying them instead of our naval oranges.”
Rather than conceding to the competition, Sun Pacific tackled the challenge with vigor. It sent Evans and others to Europe to obtain feedback from traders in the Paris and London marketplaces about the best quality and varieties of clementines. They then went to South Africa, where clementines grew, and did the same thing. As a result, Sun Pacific decided it should attempt to grow clementines in California, and it began planting them the next spring. So, what does this mean for Sun Pacific? It means Sun Pacific is a company that knows how to grow its business to meet the needs of its customers.
HIGH QUALITY, LOW PRICE
Sun Pacific works hard to make certain it is a low cost producer. But it emphasizes that being a low cost producer does not mean sacrificing high quality. “If you talk to anyone in the business, they’ll tell you we strive to put high-quality products to market,” Evans says. “We want a competitive edge, and we obtain that by working extremely diligently in everything we do. We buy fuel at the right price, and we purchase fertilizer and farming items at the right price by buying for all of our enterprises together.”
Other than the Clementines, which are distributed directly to consumers, Sun Pacific’s products are purchased by store buyers, exporters, and markets throughout the world, which then market the fruit to the customers. Sun Pacific’s marketing helps drive sales and demand by supporting the brand with creative ideas and programs. High sales and ongoing demand for its products allows Sun Pacific to sell its products at competitive prices.
GRAVITATING TOWARD CONVENIENCE
Customers’ desire for convenience extends to the fruit industry, which is why bananas, apples and table grapes have been so popular over the years. They are easy to eat on the go and require little to no preparation before consumption. Citrus fruit, however, is more difficult to eat. So how is Sun Pacific responding to the increasing trend for convenience? By focusing its efforts, as always, on the needs of its customers.
“We now produce clementines, which are the easiest citrus to eat, even for kids,” says Evans. “And we package table grapes in Ziploc® bags and clam shells.” But Evans is quick to point out that although it is important to address the customers’ desire for convenience, what is most important is growing and providing high quality products.
THE WHOLE PACKAGE
Sun Pacific’s farm team, including its harvesting team, consists of over 3,000 people who strive to produce the quality products that have built Sun Pacific’s reputation. From choosing the best variety of seed, soil, rootstock and budwood, to growing fruit with care, to packaging the product with perfection, to sales and to shipping, Sun Pacific’s employees stand behind its products and work hard to maintain the high-quality results that have given Sun Pacific its outstanding reputation across the globe. Sun Pacific is committed to continued growth and takes pride in its operations. Evolving from a small 72-acre farm in 1969 to over 20,000 acres today, Sun Pacific has made its mark on the fruit industry.