Sunkist Builds The Future On Golden Legacy

Originally printed in the February 2023 issue of Produce Business.

While California was coined the Golden State for other reasons, like the gold rush, citrus brought a new rush of excitement and opportunity. The state is known for its beautiful weather and productive soil, which allows for the production of high-quality citrus. It makes perfect sense that Sunkist Growers, the longest-standing agriculture cooperative in the nation, would be founded in the same area long associated with serendipity, resilience, innovation and growth.

This year, Sunkist is celebrating its 130th anniversary as a grower-owned fresh citrus co-op. With more than 1,000 family-owned farms making up its membership, Sunkist is celebrating the rich legacy of what started as citrus growers in the late 1800s, coming together to collaborate and cooperate. This is why, today, Sunkist’s motto is “Stronger Together.”

Since 1893, Sunkist Growers has been doing what it does best: growing citrus. In 1905, Sunkist expanded to include nearly half of California’s citrus growers. In 1908, “Sunkist” is created to brand the highest quality oranges available to consumers and to boost sunny California in the produce industry’s first ad campaign. In 1926, fresh oranges stamped with the Sunkist logo began to appear in stores, and Sunkist became the first organization ever to brand and advertise a piece of fruit. In 1960, Sunkist expanded its global export of fresh California-grown fruit, with primary markets across Europe and Japan. In 2014, the company moved its headquarters to Valencia, CA.

The first navel orange tree in California was planted in the 1800s and became the very first citrus variety in the Sunkist portfolio. California navel oranges offer the ideal balance of sweet and juicy. Today, Sunkist offers a robust portfolio of nearly 40 fresh, premium citrus varieties — including oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit, tangerines, and tangelos, in both conventional and organic. The Sunkist Cara Cara orange, which is called The Pinkie Orange because it is sweet, seedless and uniquely pink on the inside, looks like a regular orange on the outside, but has a pink color on the inside from the natural presence of lycopene.

Sunkist shared its secret to a great product: knowledge (passed down from generation to generation) and technology. It takes five years or more to get a full production of fruit, and that time is used to ensure the tree grows properly. With third, fourth and even fifth-generation Sunkist growers, there continues to be the same dedication and commitment as generations before when growing and nurturing Sunkist citrus for consumers today.

Sustainability means longevity, and many growers within the cooperative hail from long lineages of family farmers, with goals of continuing to pass down their farms to future generations. Sustainability is a priority for Sunkist to grow and learn. Many California farmers use solar power, lower-emission vehicles, water-saving irrigation systems and no-till farming. It is about preserving the land they farm with thoughtful stewardship of natural resources and careful planning for future generations.

It goes without saying that Sunkist is all about growing, which extends beyond its citrus. Sunkist leads the citrus category with a collaborative sales, marketing, category management and consumer insights team. From innovative packaging to custom promotions, the group supports its retail and foodservice partners with data-driven campaigns, strategic point-of-purchase and merchandising. With in-store and online initiatives, it is important to highlight flavor profiles, nutritional benefits and recipes, as it continues to build awareness, drive trial and increase sales.

Sunkist recently shared that March 1 is officially National Sunkist Citrus Day. Mark your calendars, as the cooperative will celebrate with in-store and online promotions that commemorate its 130-year-old legacy and delicious, juicy citrus varieties.