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Eastes Leaves Sunkist

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 8, 2006

Here at the Pundit, we’ve dealt quite extensively with the future of Sunkist. Among the more prominent pieces: We published Sunkist Wakeup Call? which asked what the message was in the loss of Paramount Citrus as a Sunkist shipper. We wrote a piece entitled, International Positions of Two Citrus Companies, which suggested that the grower/owners of Sunkist should think about where Seald Sweet would be if it hadn’t gone international in a big way.

The Pundit’s Mailbag overflowed with a lengthy letter from Rick A. Eastes, Director of Global Sourcing, Sunkist Global LLC, explaining Sunkist’s international efforts, and the Pundit responded by praising the effort but pointing out that these were the easy, non-competitive decisions to make. The grower/owners of Sunkist still had to deal with competitive regions such as China.

Most recently, we extended congratulations to the newly appointed President and CEO of Sunkist, Timothy J. Lindgren, but asked Will Tim Lindgren Go To China? The question was both literal — would Tim Lindgren establish a strategy for Sunkist in regards to Chinese citrus such as opening packing houses in China — and figurative — Tim Lindgren was called back from retirement, he had no experience marketing fruit and the question was whether someone with such a production orientation could actually persuade the grower/owners of Sunkist to recognize that they were so focused on selling California and Arizona citrus that they were leaving big value on the table.

We held out hope, but the news isn’t good. Rick Eastes — the same Rick Eastes who wrote the letter referenced above — is going to be leaving Sunkist:

Rick Eastes, Director of Global Sourcing for Sunkist Global LLC, has elected not to renew his agreement with the Sunkist subsidiary company beyond November 30, 2006.

Eastes joined the newly created Sunkist Global LLC as its first employee February 1, 2004 with the charge to develop counter-seasonal and complementary citrus from sources outside of the United States under the Sunkist brand.

In 2006, Sunkist Global LLC was able to source nearly 2.5 million boxes of Sunkist branded citrus from South Africa, Australia, and Mexico for sale not only in the USA and Canada, but throughout SE Asian, Japan, China and Korea.

According to Eastes, “Sunkist has been able to establish that there is worldwide demand for high quality citrus under the Sunkist brand that resonates not only with Sunkist’s worldwide customer base, but with consumers in many countries as well.”

“It has been a great experience working with Sunkist for 3 full seasons and I am grateful for the opportunity to have established some new relationships within Sunkist as well as with growers, packers, and wholesale and retail receivers around the world.”

“Working to start Sunkist Global LLC has been a great adventure. I believe it has added value to Sunkist’s growers as well as its foreign suppliers and receivers of Sunkist branded citrus. I expect Sunkist will continue to pursue the year-around supply concepts that have been put in place over the last 3 seasons.”

“Although I expect to remain in the fresh produce industry, I wish Sunkist continued success with their goal to become a significant entity in the global citrus marketplace.”

It is a very nice press release but, sometimes, actions speak louder than words. And Rick’s departure, being that he wants to stay in produce, is an indication that, to put it mildly, he didn’t think Tim Lindgen compared favorably with Jeff Garguilo, Sunkist’s last CEO.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many other top people at Sunkist who joined during the Garguilo years either have left or are looking.

Previously the Pundit praised Steve Barnard of Mission Produce, who is on the Sunkist Board of Directors and has both the intelligence and marketing experience to really help the grower/owners. But nobody seems to be listening. Steve was originally appointed as one of Paramount’s appointees to the board. Paramount is gone and Steve stayed to try and help. But he is not going to waste his time being the conscious of the board if Sunkist’s growers aren’t interested in maximizing the value of the brand they own and would rather watch the value of the Sunkist brand gradually atrophy away.

Just wait for some of the plantings in China to start producing, and Sunkist will lose its Asian markets as it has already lost its European markets.

In the meantime, a talent like Rick is available for hire. Sunkist’s loss is going to be a big win for someone else.

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