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‘Little red boxes of sunshine’

Sun-Maid disrupts California’s raisin market.

Lee Allen, Contributing Writer

March 13, 2019

2 Min Read
Grapes for raisins are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Nearly 1,000 growers produce grapes for Sun-Maid Growers, a cooperative that has cornered the market in terms of name recognition.Sun-Maid Growers of California

There’s more than one raisin grower in California, but name recognition goes to Sun-Maid Growers, a privately-owned farmer’s cooperative made up of close to a thousand growers who farm 50,000 acres of raisin grapes in central California.  Located in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley’s raisin producing district, Sun-Maid products are distributed throughout the U.S. and in more than 50 countries around the world.

It’s a unique growing area because its long and dry summers are optimal for grape production and natural sun-drying of grapes into raisins. 

At their annual membership meeting in Fresno, the 106th such gathering, Harry Overly, Sun-Maid’s President and CEO, spread the good news that net sales in the previous fiscal year held steady at $362 million; and for the 32nd year in a row, member payments exceeded the established industry field price.

Overly offered what he called ‘cautious guidance’ in regards to worldwide raisin demand trends and the impact of emerging foreign competitors while confirming that the California crop would easily cover today’s demands.  The current outlook for the industry is based on 2018 numbers that saw an increase to about 240,000-250,000 tons, representing a jump of more than 10% and deliveries exceeding earlier figures by 22%.

Speaking with GRAPELine, Overly said, “2016 crop volume was huge, 2017 was short, 2018 approached normal expectations, and all indications point to an even larger harvest in 2019, barring any significant weather impacts.”

Future will be challenging

When he speaks to growers, Overly’s message is this: “In the future, with supply and pricing going up and demand remaining flat, it will be challenging.  We could actually see a bit of an oversupply situation if we’re not careful.  We’ve got the largest block of growers in the industry, obligated to give us all their crop and we’re obligated to take all of it, so we need to change and increase demand, making it relevant to today’s millennial parents, our new target.”

Toward that end, a new campaign has been launched to promote a portfolio of new products to reinvigorate the brand.  “We’ve included consumer insights in our new offerings that we expect will represent 40% of the companies’ growth, a goal of $100 million within 5 years.

The ‘Grow Young’ campaign, the first full marketing campaign in a decade, celebrates the wonder of childhood and includes the nostalgia of what the company calls “little red boxes of sunshine with the timelessness of wholesome snacking for both kids and parents.”  Sun-Maid believes the healthy snacking market will continue to grow and they plan to not only be a part of it, but to drive the future of the category.

Says CEO Overly, “Our industry really needs to stop doing things the way it has always done them.  It needs new strategies that will bring some disruption.  Going down the road of change is difficult, so what I’d ask all players involved is to work with us, hang on, and enjoy the ride.”

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