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Citrus status quo not option, retiring Sunkist CEO says

Focusing on the needs of customers and end-consumers and finding new ways to compete in a very dynamic and fluid marketplace has been Sunkist CEO Jeff Gargiulo's mantra since taking the presidency of the 113-year-old cooperative in 2001.

His final address to Sunkist growers at the cooperative's annual meeting in Ventura recently struck familiar chords as he told the crowd of citrus growers that status quo is not an option in a dramatically changing marketplace.

“History is littered with well-known brands that resisted market dynamics and perished in the wake of competitors old and new,” said Gargiulo, who last month announced he would not renew his management contract next June so he could spend more time in a build-out of his Napa Valley winery, Gargiulo Vineyards. “Sunkist needs to continue helping you anticipate and plant the right varieties, implement best practices and apply emerging technologies.”

“Our future is all about alignment — aligning Sunkist growers and packers with our customers and end consumers; aligning the citrus industry in the west to grow the citrus category.”

Sunkist's board of directors passed a resolution last month committing the organization to reposition and restructure company sales, logistics and supply chain management to better serve customers and consumers.

“We've put the foundation for the 21st century in place. There is a vision, there is a strategic direction for how Sunkist and its quality growers will prosper, and there is a management team to implement it,” he said.

$1 billion revenue

For the first time since 1998, Sunkist's gross revenues reached $1 billion in 2005 (up $30 million from 2004) and per-acre returns are now at $2,614 — up from $1,841 when Gargiulo arrived in 2001.

Alongside improved revenues, per-acre returns and payments to members, Gargiulo is leaving Sunkist with a history of brand-building initiatives:

  • Created joint venture with Taylor Farms for pre-cut fruits and vegetables;

  • Expanded beyond Sunkist's traditional customer base with the likes of Wal-Mart and Costco;

  • Introduced new product lines to leverage the Sunkist brand — convenient fresh-cut citrus and snack packs, even Sunkist strawberries;

  • Partnered with Little League baseball and Sesame Street to promote citrus;

  • Began sourcing citrus from other parts of the world to meet consumer demand for year-round product;

  • Initiated changes to align the supply chain, enhance food safety and quality control systems;

  • Led the formation of the California Citrus Growers Association, credited for stabilizing the citrus industry in the west. The CCGA also initiated the industry's first generic promotion program touting California citrus and the Sunkist brand in a raise-all-boats demand strategy.

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