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Sun Pacific launches recruiting campaign to support demand for Cuties

VISALIA, CA — Sun Pacific, which markets its clementines and mandarins under the popular "Cuties" label, hosted a luncheon meeting June 11 at the Visalia Convention Center, here, that drew more than 200 citrus, nut, raisin and tree fruit growers, as well as investors, who came to hear the latest about the clementine and murcott industry and learn about the possibility of packing for Sun Pacific under the "Cuties" label.

Berne-EvansBerne Evans III, chief executive officer of Sun PacificBerne Evans III, chief executive officer of Sun Pacific, started his comments by stating that the tremendous growth of mandarins has not cannibalized the Navel market. Sun Pacific is also among the largest Navel growers in the citrus industry.

"The biggest advantage we have over our competitors is that we have owners sitting at the table during sales," Evans said. "We will be the low-cost packer."

Evans was confident that with the established "Cuties" brand, quality standards and the addition of Wawona and Moonlight, Sun Pacific would have no problem meeting the demands of retailers.

He believes that customers are willing to pay up for an established brand. The mandarin industry is at $600 million total in sales, with Sun Pacific selling $450 million of that, according to Evans.

The quality standards for Cuties are that 10 percent or fewer can have seeds, and they must have a minimum 10.5 Brix and a maximum acid level of 1.6. The industry is working to validate this standard.

"Wawona and Moonlight are established growers and marketing companies," Evans added. "They will also be soliciting growers to join us under the Cuties label."

Cuties from California are made up of varieties of mandarins, clementines and murcotts. Clementines are shipped from late October through mid-January and murcotts from mid-January to mid-May. The two varieties represent, by far, the fastest-growing segment of the citrus industry and probably the fastest growing and most successful item in produce over the last 15 years.

In the late 1990s, there were minimal plantings of both, as compared to more than 50,000 acres in the ground through this year. Many growers have planted acreage and are looking for insight as to the direction and growth of the industry.

The Tango mandarin is another recent variety to be added to the market. National Raisin Co. of Fowler has entered the mandarin market with plantings of Tangos.

National Raisin planted one year ago and attended the Cuties meeting looking to see what the long-term viability for the mandarin industry looks like, according to Jane Asmar, vice president of sales, who represents the third generation of National Raisin.

"This is obviously still an emerging market," she said. "Seems like there is growth. I was stunned that Cuties hadn't crossed the Mississippi River. That is a lot of potential. Cuties seem to have the big retailers behind them. They've got a good brand. I understand now why they don't want to do national advertising. Mr. Evans definitely knows what he's doing, and right now they need the production. We're looking to plant more of our land with mandarins. It will be interesting to see where this all goes in 10 years."