U.S.: Sun Pacific to step up domestic Vintage Sweet orange program
U.S.-based Sun Pacific is set to ramp up volumes of its Vintage Sweet Navel oranges sold in the domestic market this season, in an effort to stir up some excitement in the fruit category.
Speaking to www.frehsfuritportal.com at the recent PMA Fresh Summit held in Atlanta, Georgia, company president Bob DiPiazza said the rising popularity of mandarins over recent years meant Navels were no longer 'number one'.
"For the first time in the whole of the citrus category, Navel oranges are not the king," he said.
"So now mandarins, which of course in our case are branded as Cuties, are the largest contributor to the entire sales category. But oranges are still a very significant item in the category, and we wanted to create some excitement."
Navels marketed under the Vintage Sweet brand are grown on Sun Pacific's most mature orange groves, which were brought over from Spain in the early 1900s, according to DiPiazza.
He said while the fruit had typically been exported due to the premium price that can be fetched abroad, quantities sold within the U.S. would rise this season after a successful test program last year.
"As the largest single grower of Navels in the [Central] Valley, we have the volumes to be able to take some of the smaller sizes and market them," he said.
The specific groves with fruit that qualify to be sold under the brand are carefully selected by experts who assess the fruit quality on a number of factors.
"We also tell the fruit's story. This is a premium program," he said.
"It's designed to appeal to that consumer who is looking for that product that creates what I’ll call an exceptional eating experience, and who is willing to pay a premium."
The seasonal program does not begin until January, as the fruit needs sufficient time to mature on the trees.
DiPiazza added Sun Pacific would continue to export Vintage Sweet Navels, and while there wouldn't be large enough volumes to supply every major retailer in the U.S., quantities would be sufficient to put a 'serious dent' in the retail market.
"So far we’ve been very pleased with the reaction that we’ve got from retailers," he said.
"It’s not January yet so at this point it’s a verbal commitment, but it looks like we’re going to have some really good distribution with the who’s who of retailers."
Sun Pacific's Cutie mandarins, for which it acquired the branding rights after its split with Paramount Citrus in 2013, have also been performing very well.
"We’ve had some really good years with them," he said.
"It’s not secret that our partnership split up a few years ago and we have a very fine competitor out there that was a former partner, but we’ve been very pleased with everything that we’ve seen in terms of sales of Cuties."
The brand continues to grow, and DiPiazza highlighted the successful program last year with foodservice giant McDonald's.
"We were honored to be the first fresh fruit to ever be offered in McDonald's, which is an iconic brand," he said.
"So we’re going to repeat the program, it’s going to start a little later as they’re engrossed in the ‘All Day Breakfast’ initiative that they’ve launched in the United States, so we’re going to start a month later and go a month longer."
"And we’ve had a lot of additional interest since McDonald's, all of a sudden there are a lot of foodservice operators that want to talk to us."
He also said McDonald's sales of Happy Meals with a Cutie mandarin had far exceeded the projections, with 'overwhelmingly' positive feedback from customers.
Kiwifruit and table grapes
Aiming to mimic the success of its Cuties mandarins, Sun Pacific recently began offering a new kiwifruit brand called 'Mighties', which DiPiazza said has so far proven very popular.
"With Mighties our mission has been to increase consumption in the U.S., which really pales in comparison to Europe and Canada," he said.
"I did some research to validate the problem, and this issue was not only inherently as a retailer. Basically the American consumer didn’t have the time or the inclination to peel and slice."
The ripe kiwifruit sold under the Mighties brand managed to capture 78% of the U.S. market of all branded and packaged kiwifruit in its second year. The Sun Pacific head now hopes to top those figures this coming winter season.
DiPiazza also mentioned the company's had been converting varieties in its table grape category recently, in a bid to keep up with changing consumer preferences.
"There have been new varieties developed by the University of California, Davis, and we’ve been very much a part of that development and we have panted new varieties," he said.
"It's about a four-year process, so now we're waiting for yields to grow. But we’re going to be very well positioned with the green, red and black grapes that we bring to market."