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Sun-Maid introduces new products, plans centennial celebration

Joe Tamble

Sun-Maid Growers of California, a cooperative owned by nearly 1,000 family raisin grape growers in the central San Joaquin Valley of California, was founded in 1912 and will mark its centennial anniversary in 2012.

“We are approaching our 100-year anniversary,” said Joe Tamble, vice president of sales, in an interview with The Produce News Aug. 31. “That is exciting for us, and we as a cooperative have been working towards this date for quite some time to work on getting the word out about the company and what it stands for … and the fact that Sun-Maid is producing and marketing and selling healthy products.”

Raisins are the cooperative’s core business, and according to Mr. Tamble, Sun-Maid “accounts for approximately one-third of all of the raisin production in the United States. But in addition, “we sell a whole array of dried fruit products in all segments of the category,” he said. The line includes such products as dried plums, apricots, cranberries, dates, figs, cherries, apples and mixed fruit, as well as such specialty value-added items as chocolate-covered and yogurt-covered raisins.

A mini-snacks pack of Sun-Maid vanilla yogurt raisins. (Photo courtesy of Sun-Maid)

“We’ve got two new items that we launched recently,” Mr. Tamble said. “One is vanilla yogurt raisins in a mini-bag,” and the other is vanilla yogurt cherries.

The mini-bag of vanilla yogurt raisins contains 10 one-half-ounce mini-boxes of the product. “One of our most famous and iconic items is our Sun-Maid mini raisins,” and the vanilla yogurt version of that product was launched earlier. The rollout was still in process, “and so far the acceptance from our retail partners has been very positive,” he said. “We are going to continue to showcase that item, and we are going to be sampling that at the upcoming Produce Marketing Association show” scheduled for October in Atlanta.

The vanilla yogurt cherry product was launched at the same time, and “that again has been doing very well for us across the United States.” The vanilla yogurt cherries come in a 6-ounce bag.

Sun-Maid is “very much in tune with the whole dried fruit category” in the United States, Mr. Tamble said. Even though Sun-Maid remains primarily “a raisin cooperative,” the other dried fruit items are “a very significant part of our business. We have the largest dried fruit plant, right here in Kingsburg, CA, in the world. We provide a lot of different items, and that is part of our message as we are fast approaching this 100-year anniversary.”

Another important part of the message is to “get the word out about the healthy attributes of our products,” he said. With regard to raisins, for example, “our goal is to continue to educate the end consumers that raisins are one of the most healthy foods in the store. Raisins have no added sugar, no cholesterol. They provide fiber, are high in potassium and low in sodium” and are “a very important source of antioxidants.”

When The Produce News talked to Mr. Tamble at the end of August, the 2011 raisin harvest had just gotten underway. “Just this past weekend, many of our growers started laying fresh grapes down on the rows in the field for the sun to do its magical work to dry fresh grapes into raisins,” he said.

The overall crop this year “looks good” and appears to be similar to last year with regard to crop size, quality and sugar content of the fruit, Mr. Tamble said. The crop is, however, he added, five to 10 days later than normal.

Last year, “the field price for the raisin industry was $1,500 per ton, which was the highest in over 25 years” not just for Sun-Maid growers but for the industry. “Most of the raisin growers were very pleased with that price,” and a similar price is expected “for this year as well,” he said.

High field prices for raisins “could facilitate a price advance to our bulk business and our retail business,” he continued. “Last year, that in fact happened,” as Sun-Maid in early January “took a price advance, along with the whole raisin industry. We weren’t doing that in a vacuum.” Whether that would happen again this year, he could not yet say. “We don’t know what that price will be.”