Sun Pacific Sees Growth from Brands like Cuties & Mighties
Founded by Berne Evans in 1969, Sun Pacific Marketing Cooperative is a leading portfolio player in the fresh produce industry across multiple product categories, including table grapes, kiwis and citrus. The competitor analysis template approach focused on the organization’s product and brand portfolio and operations, including packing and growers.
In total, D&B estimates privately-held, Pasadena-headquartered Sun Pacific Marketing Cooperative revenues at $336 million, with 1,600 employees.
Competitor Analysis Template: Product Portfolio and Brands
Sun Pacific’s brand portfolio includes:
- Cuties (clementines and mandarins)
- Mighties (kiwis)
- Air Chief (navel and Valencia oranges, lemons, California table grapes)
- Vintage Sweets (heirloom navel oranges)
Sun Pacific Brand Portfolio: Cuties
The most recognized consumer brand in Sun Pacific’s portfolio is Cuties. According to Nielsen 2021 data, it is the #1 market share brand by volume, at over 250 million pounds.
While Cuties is the market leader, close behind Cuties is the $5 billion Wonderful Company’s Halos brand, at just under 250 million pounds. According to one source, Wonderful originally owned the Cuties brand, but “a split occurred,” and Sun Pacific came away with Cuties, while Wonderful (Paramount Citrus) created Halos. This kind of background information is key in completing a competitor analysis template.
Sun Pacific has included Cuties brand as part of its portfolio since 1999, and claims they are “the most trusted Mandarin brand.” According to the company, California-grown Cuties are harvested from October through April as follows:
- “Murcotts and Tangos between mid-January and April”
- “Clementines between mid/late October and early January”
Outside of the California growing season, Sun Pacific offers Cuties “grown in the Southern Hemisphere” and packed under the Summer Cuties brand.
In 2020, Berne Evans donated Cuties to Los Angeles based Cedars Sinai health care workers as part of a 100,000-bag donation effort during the pandemic.
Sun Pacific Brand Portfolio: Mighties
Kiwi brand Mighties are a more recent introduction to Sun Pacific’s brand portfolio, since 2014. US consumption of kiwi has seen long-term growth, at over a half-pound per capita in 1993, up from .15 pound in 1985. Still, kiwi is a smaller player in US fresh fruit consumption, particularly when compared with:
- oranges and lemons (6 to 13.2 pounds)
- bananas (13.4 pounds)
- grapes (4.5 to 8.2 pounds)
- avocados (8.9 pounds)
- apples (10 pounds)
Worldwide, kiwi market imports are led by China, Japan and Belgium. Sun Pacific claims to grow over 50% of kiwis in North America, with plans to triple growth by 2025.
Sun Pacific Brand Portfolio: Air Chief
The Air Chief brand includes navel and Valencia oranges, lemons, and table grapes. The focus of this competitor analysis template is table grapes, with Sun Pacific’s California table grapes offered to the industry under the Air Chief brand. Compared with mandarins, consumer branding in table grapes is much less developed.
Sun Pacific has focused heavily on organic production for many years, reporting 23% of its four million boxes of grapes as organic in 2015. Sun Pacific has also introduced new varieties of grapes. Sun Pacific’s organic strategy was a significant commitment, as former Sun Pacific Vice President Howard Nager said:
“We jumped in with two feet,” he said. “With organics, you can’t do it halfway or do it with one foot.”
As of July 2020, Sun Pacific announced that organic grapes represent the majority of grape volume, with 20 varieties. Melissa Heinrich, Vice President of Sales for grapes and kiwi, who joined Sun Pacific in 2017 (after 10 years with WalMart as Senior Director of Sourcing and Category Director), said about the focus on organic grapes at Sun Pacific:
“We have grown our organics into a large and robust program, converting organic volume over the past three years… the company has expanded its organic grape volume by transitioning more and more of its conventional acreage.”
“Organic grapes will be available from July to December with promotional volume between mid-August and beginning of November…We will have 20 varieties of organics to cover all colors and windows.”
“Customers are looking to buy organic grapes that are as sweet and as high quality as conventional,” she said. “Big size, new varieties, better flavor and super sweet.”
In 2017 Sun Pacific announced a partnership with Sun World, a leading table grape breeding organization. This meant that Sun Pacific could offer popular varieties like the Autumn Crisp.
Sun Pacific President Barney Evans outlined the organic and conventional mix strategy for retail customers:
“Our goal is to offer our retail partners highly customized programs for grapes that deliver what consumers want – a high-quality eating experience of large, beautifully colored, delicious grapes in both conventional and organic varieties.”
These customized programs included packaging options of pouch bags, clamshells, and universal footprint cases.
There has also been innovation in the grapes product line. In 2018, Melissa Heinrich shared information on the Air Chief organic pack of grapes, which are:
“Our organic pack is a 21-pound stem up hand-selected pack…These hand-selected bunches are packed on a bubble pad, followed by a liner and lastly paper is added to ensure our organic grapes arrive in excellent condition and are display ready.”
The most recent brand is the Vintage Sweets, which are heirloom products introduced in the US as a brand in 2015.
Competitor Analysis Template: Operations, Including Packing and Growers
Sun Pacific runs a large operation:
“pack and ship more than 75 million boxes of produce around the globe. Our footprint of 1,200,000 square feet of state-of-the-art packing facilities allows us to pick, pack and ship our fruit and deliver it to consumers in less than seven days.”
The breakdown of Sun Pacific’s California operations is as follows:
- Maricopa (Bakersfield): 600,000 square feet, 44% of listed operations, focused on Cuties, grapes and lemons.
- Bakersfield: 350,000 square feet, 25% of listed operations, focused on oranges and grapes.
- Tulare: 225,000 square feet, 16% of listed operations, focused on Mighties, Cuties and oranges.
- Exeter: 125,000 square feet, 9% of listed operations, focused on oranges and tomatoes.
- Euclid (Porterville): 75,000 square feet, 5% of listed operations focused on oranges and minneolas.
According to one industry source, Sun Pacific sources 40% of its navels from its own growing operations, with the remaining 60% coming from outside growers. Sun Pacific is reputed to deliver a strong financial return to the grower and is a preferred packer. These grower relationships enable Sun Pacific to consistently deliver full trucks with its citrus product portfolio.
Competitor Analysis Template: Culture and Leadership
For Sun Pacific’s leadership, delivering for growers is a high priority. While this is sound business practice, there is also company history that plays into the culture and philosophy.
Specifically, Sun Pacific CEO Berne Evans was highly critical of Sunkist Growers, where he was formerly a board director. He departed Sunkist in 1993, and was reported as “bitter.” In 1998, Evans said about Sunkist:
“It’s a cancer-ridden co-op with special interests all through it…Sunkist is like the post office. They get their salaries whether they have a good or bad year…They’ll bend over backwards more for supermarkets than for their own growers.”
To the extent that these executive comments are indicative of Sun Pacific’s company culture, the organization’s values are fiercely competitive, with a history of severing relationships and splitting with partners.
The berry brand, Driscoll’s has also strategically focused on meeting growers’ needs, as we explored in its growth case study.
Completing a competitor analysis template with important players in your industry can be a challenge. But this food industry example shows how digging into publicly-available information can yield… juicy results.