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Sunkist And Pure Gold

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, February 21, 2007

We dealt recently with the impact of the freeze on the Western U.S. citrus industry in a piece entitled A Paradigm Shift For Citrus. Now Sunkist has announced its intention to pack all post-freeze fancy grade navels in “Pure Gold” brand and the choice fruit will be packed in its usual labels.

It is not 100% clear what Sunkist is doing here. One supposes that it is trying to protect the brand. Executives at Sunkist must feel that the quality of the post-freeze fruit isn’t good enough to merit the Sunkist label.

Obviously, it is a smart idea to not ruin consumer perception of a brand by selling sub-par product.

Yet the decision to use the Pure Gold brand is odd. Pure Gold was the label of Mutual Orange Distributors, which started in Redlands, California in 1906. It was the forerunner of Pure Gold, Inc., another co-operative with a focus similar to Sunkist. In 1989, Pure Gold ceased to be used in the industry, as the Arlington Heights Citrus Company, the last vestige of Pure Gold, decided to affiliate with Sunkist.

This is interesting history but there can’t be more than a fraction of a percent of consumers who recall the brand.

And what are retailers to do? Sell the citrus that Sunkist doesn’t think is good enough to label Sunkist without warning customers? Or put up a sign saying that “Nothing meets our usual standards for citrus but you can buy this if you want.”

We asked Sunkist for some merchandising guidance but they didn’t provide any.

The strategy of protecting the brand may be the best one available but it reveals a weakness. Sunkist doesn’t run the kind of national consumer advertising it ran in the early 1900s when it regularly advertised in the great mass media of the day, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

As such it depends on people seeing the Sunkist logo on fruit as the key to maintaining brand equity. But if the consumer is not going to see Sunkist, that equity will shrink fast.

One answer would be to have the Sunkist logo on other products, but Sunkist just dropped its strawberry deal which means a loss of from 12 to 15 million consumer impressions each year.

Another answer would be to have citrus being packed under the Sunkist label in other northern hemisphere countries such as Spain and China. This would both capture markets in places, such as Europe, where Sunkist isn’t a big player and create a source for Sunkist fruit that won’t be impacted by California freezes. Then, if a freeze happens, Sunkist would have alternative supplies available.

You know Pure Gold was another co-operative, like Blue Anchor, that became defunct because it didn’t change with the times. For Sunkist executives and board members: forewarned is forearmed.

We dealt recently with the impact of the freeze on the Western U.S. citrus industry in a piece entitled A Paradigm Shift For Citrus. Now Sunkist has announced its intention to pack all post-freeze fancy grade navels in “Pure Gold” brand and the choice fruit will be packed in its usual labels.

It is not 100% clear what Sunkist is doing here. One supposes that it is trying to protect the brand. Executives at Sunkist must feel that the quality of the post-freeze fruit isn’t good enough to merit the Sunkist label.

Obviously, it is a smart idea to not ruin consumer perception of a brand by selling sub-par product.

Yet the decision to use the Pure Gold brand is odd. Pure Gold was the label of Mutual Orange Distributors, which started in Redlands, California in 1906. It was the forerunner of Pure Gold, Inc., another co-operative with a focus similar to Sunkist. In 1989, Pure Gold ceased to be used in the industry, as the Arlington Heights Citrus Company, the last vestige of Pure Gold, decided to affiliate with Sunkist.

This is interesting history but there can’t be more than a fraction of a percent of consumers who recall the brand.

And what are retailers to do? Sell the citrus that Sunkist doesn’t think is good enough to label Sunkist without warning customers? Or put up a sign saying that “Nothing meets our usual standards for citrus but you can buy this if you want.”

We asked Sunkist for some merchandising guidance but they didn’t provide any.

The strategy of protecting the brand may be the best one available but it reveals a weakness. Sunkist doesn’t run the kind of national consumer advertising it ran in the early 1900s when it regularly advertised in the great mass media of the day, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

As such it depends on people seeing the Sunkist logo on fruit as the key to maintaining brand equity. But if the consumer is not going to see Sunkist, that equity will shrink fast.

One answer would be to have the Sunkist logo on other products, but Sunkist just dropped its strawberry dea which means a loss of from 12 to 15 million consumer impressions each year.

Another answer would be to have citrus being packed under the Sunkist label in other northern hemisphere countries such as Spain and China. This would both capture markets in places, such as Europe, where Sunkist isn’t a big player and create a source for Sunkist fruit that won’t be impacted by California freezes. Then, if a freeze happens, Sunkist would have alternative supplies available.

You know Pure Gold was another co-operative, like Blue Anchor, that became defunct because it didn’t change with the times. For Sunkist executives and board members: forewarned is forearmed.

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