SUN-MAID GROWERS GATHER IN FRESNO
95th Annual Meeting Touts Success and Sustainability
By Dan Malcolm, Editor
(January 12, 2008) – If there is one thing that can be said of Sun-Maid Growers of California, it is that they are clearly one of the most successful enterprises in California, and that success is sustainable. Sun-Maid’s success is not only sustainable, sustainability is at the very core of their success.
More than 700 grower members of the 95-year-old cooperative gathered in Fresno in December for their annual meeting. They came to hear annual reports, see the latest innovations to assist in the production and sales of their raisins, eat a hearty raisin laced lunch and to catch up with friends. As an added bonus, and in keeping with the new healthy image of the Sun-Maid girl, attendees were treated to fitness advice from Fitness Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Denise Brodey.
Sun-Maid Chairman Jon Marthedal focused on sustainability in his annual report. This was not your typical lecture on how growers need to get sustainable or be pushed aside. Marthedal praised the grape and raisin industry and the Sun-Maid organization for their long pioneering history of sustainability. “One of the new buzzwords heard around the world today is sustainability,” said Marthedal as he gave multiple examples of how individuals, industry and entertainment are striving to achieve sustainability in the operations. “Global Warming, carbon footprint, carbon offsets, going green, recycling and many other environmental concerns are wrapped up into the one word, sustainability.”
Marthedal announced that in attendance with him at the meeting were his 91-year-old father and 26-year-old son, three of the four generations of Marthedal family that have been producing raisins in the same soil, and even on some of the same vines for over 100 years. “This by anybody’s standard defines sustainability,” declared Marthedal, as he pointed out that this multi-generational dynamic was duplicated in many instances in the auditorium. “When it comes to sustainability, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. I believe the California raisin industry has been practicing sustainability year in and year out since its beginnings a century ago.”
Marthedal shared many examples of sustainability including the fact that California’s 797,000 vineyard acres equates to 482,185,000 grapevines or 548,000 miles of vineyard rows. “That is one row long enough to circle the earth 22 times, travel to the moon 2.28 times or drive from Fresno to New York 224 times,” expressed Marthedal. “In a year California’s grapevines assimilate 13,500,000 tons of carbon dioxide and liberate 9,500,000 tons of oxygen. In 2007 alone California’s grapevines will offset the CO2 produced from 1,350,000,000 gallons of gasoline. That is the equivalent of the amount of gasoline used each year by 1 million 2007 Chevrolet Suburbans.”
Other examples Marthedal offered of sustainability included the use of recycled materials in Sun-Maid packaging and corrugated cases, the use of processing water to grow grass for animal feed, Sun-Maid’s paper tray recycling program, and a number of other ways that the cooperative uses its by-products to create other useful products.
The use of sun drying (solar energy) over 90 percent of California raisins as opposed to the 6 trillion Btu of natural gas it would take to use dryers, is significant by itself to show an industry that believes in sustainability. “Raisin growers have been producing natural raisins from ‘Just Grapes and Sunshine’ for over 100 years, said Marthedal. “We all have a vested interest in maintaining healthy soils in which we grow our grapevines, protecting the water supply that waters those grapevines and quench our children’s thirst, and protecting the air we all breathe, and enjoying the fruits of our labor, a healthy, wholesome and nutritious product.”
Noting that nearly 50 percent of California raisin acreage is harvested mechanically, using either continuous tray or dried-on-vine methods, Marthedal expressed hope that this percentage would increase in the next decade. “I would encourage those of you still hand harvesting to seriously consider the transition to mechanical harvesting,” said Marthedal. “It is important to plan ahead for this transition to make any necessary modifications in your vineyard or cultural practices, and to assure that there are sufficient numbers of mechanical harvesters available in the event of severe labor shortages.”
Sun-Maid President Barry Kriebel’s report was filled with good news for attendees, the majority of which focused on both paid and complimentary promotions within the media. In a mix of audio/visual presentation and public address, Kriebel shared an entertaining look at where we’ve been seeing Sun-Maid in the media over the past few years.
“Last year we unveiled the digitally animated Sun-Maid girl, which received a fair amount of news interest and was seen by millions of new and existing customers and their families,” said Kriebel. “Our long-term objectives were to develop and own commercial artwork forever, which we could use worldwide, and could be adapted to many different usages and media formats. With the Sun-Maid girl, we have the perfect spokesperson to tell the story of the naturalness of raisins and the beauty of California, to which we can add a little imagination.”
Kriebel reported on Sun-Maid’s sponsorship of “Curious George,” a PBS Children’s cartoon, which parents value as educational television programming. Conservative use of Sun-Maid images sharing an educational message met PBS sponsorship guidelines well.
As part of a balanced effort of promoting Sun-Maid’s image, the cooperative maintained a presence in traditional magazines, but also began to work directly with Fitness Magazine to promote raisins as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. Fitness Magazine produced a special edition for newsstands, which sold a million copies, called “Holiday Shortcuts” in which Sun-Maid was the only advertiser.
This 112 page issue was filled with exercise and weight loss tips, recipes, party ideas and Sun-Maid images. The back cover featured the Sun-Maid girl with a contemporary healthy look on the beach exercising.
“Now, some of you may be surprised to see the Sun-Maid girl on the beach or in Hollywood,” said Kriebel. “But where else would you expect a California girl to be? She has to have a chance to get off the farm and out of the kitchen sometimes.”
Additionally the Sun-Maid girl can be seen and heard along with other images on the worldwide web in English, Spanish, Japanese and French.
Unpaid use of Sun-Maid images also abounded. Kriebel reported that Master Card used a Sun-Maid Raisin box in one of its “Priceless” commercials, a “Blue’s Clues” book used a very familiar looking red box when Blue was shopping for healthy snacks, and the “Simpsons” had an extensive sequence of events that included “Sun-Made Raisins” in which Marge runs out of her favorite raisins, so she goes to the store, gets into a brawl with another customer over the very last box. She succeeds and bakes her award winning raisin cake.
“Being an American icon has its advantages,” said Kriebel. “Sometimes we inspire creative writers, because of the popularity and notoriety of the Sun-Maid girl. Reader’s Digest last May recognized Sun-Maid as one of the top Icons of all time.”
Speaking on behalf of Sun-Maid’s employees Kriebel concluded. “The Sun-Maid girl opens new doors and opportunities, and carries with it great responsibility. You and your generations before you have each contributed to making the Sun-Maid girl the American icon she is, which enables her to reach out and touch future generations of consumers. It starts with you on the farm….”
Article condensed with the
approval of the publisher.
January 2008 edition