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News of agribusiness: Golden State Citrus Packers upgrades for specialty citrus

Golden State Citrus Packers – a Sunkist affiliate with the Visalia Citrus Packing Group (VCPG) – will begin the new fall citrus season with the latest in packing technology in its expanded and improved quarters in Woodlake, Calif., that will better serve its growers and customers – especially in the area of specialty citrus.

“Basically, we’ll be able to handle everything from small, fragile mandarins to the largest pummelos, and everything in between,” said VCPG resident, and Sunkist board member, Randy Veeh. “We added a new specialty line and made changes to our orange line to operate more flexibly to meet the needs of consumers and buyers and to better serve our growers.”

The company decided to invest in the upgrades now, Veeh said, "in order to be ready when the large number of new easy-peeling varieties come online in the next few years. The industry is changing and we are committed to being on the cutting edge.”

Sunkist's sales performance for the specialty varieties was nothing less than spectacular in 2006, Veeh added, with revenues for varieties such as Clementines, Moros and Cara Caras up 19 percent from 2005 and 51 percent from 2004. In addition to Sunkist's sales team, Veeh credits much of this success to the work of Jim Meeks, who heads the specialty variety program out of Sunkist's Visalia office.

Cliff St. Martin, general manager of the Woodlake area plant, when the plant reopens in the fall there will be 140,000 square feet under cover, including additional cold storage and the latest in packing machinery.

The new stand-alone specialty packing line, with two sizers, is dedicated to the safe handling of all specialty varieties including all the easy-peeler types, Cara Caras, bloods, minneolas and pummelos.

Flexibility and new technology has been added to the orange line to better serve navel and Valencia growers. “We’ve added flexibility here, with a 50 percent increase in capacity and more variety in our bagging and packaging capability,” said St. Martin. “We’ll be in a better position to fill our ‘on-demand’ orders that are sales driven,” he said.

The Visalia-based business was started in 1945 when seven local growers joined forces to build the Visalia Citrus Assn. packinghouse in Visalia, with the late Jess Swift at the helm. They became affiliated with Sunkist Growers at that time.

The Tri-County Citrus plant at Orange Cove was added in 1964. Three years later the private company acquired the Lemon Cove Assn. house at Woodlake and changed its name to Golden State Citrus Packers.

In 1998, the company reorganized under the name of Visalia Citrus Packing Group L.L.P., with Al Williams as chairman of the board, a role he still fills. John Kalendar is manager of VCPG’s Orange Cove plant and Bob Walters coordinates sales as head of the Visalia Fruit Exchange.

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