The onset of the holiday season in mid-November brings two treats for the gourmand: the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau and the harvest of clementine oranges. But only one of those fits in a stocking.
Last Friday, on the very day Francophiles the world over were savoring their first sips of this year’s Beaujolais, Paramount Citrus, the largest integrated grower, shipper and packer of fresh citrus in the U.S., was uncorking what it called the world’s largest citrus packinghouse in its hometown of Delano, Calif. And those darling, delightful Clementines were the main reason.
(Note: Darling Clementines, with a capital “D,” are grown in Spain, and trademarked and marketed by LGS Specialty Sales Ltd. Delite Clementines are trademarked and marketed by Mulholland Citrus … descendants of the Mulholland who famously engineered the water supply for Los Angeles.)
Paramount, part of Roll Global, already had three packing facilities in California and Mexico that ship more than 200,000 tons of various citrus fruits throughout North America and the Pacific Rim. But a $20-million marketing campaign for the Cuties brand of mandarin orange — a joint venture between Paramount Citrus, Sun Pacific and Fowler Packing — has the company thinking even bigger.
Last season, Paramount and its partners packed and shipped 60 million boxes of Cuties. “That number is expected to reach 90 million this year; and in less than five years, shipments are expected to reach 140 million boxes,” said the company last Friday.
Helping it get there will be the new 640,000-sq.-ft. (59,456-sq.-m.) packinghouse, which will employ more than 500 people.
“Our city currently has an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent, but the Cuties plant is a big step in the right direction, offering a wide range of positions that appeal to the hardworking members of our community,” said Grace Vallejo, mayor of Delano.
Total investment was not announced, although The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Sun Pacific had invested $65 million in a processing plant.
Over the past 12 years, the company has become the largest Clementine grower in the U.S. The Cuties plant is the largest single capital investment in Roll Global's history.
“We've planted a lot of Cuties trees over the past several years and the consumption and demand has consistently increased,” said Paramount Citrus President David Krause. “We need this facility to handle all the new volume coming on line.”
Paramount annually ships more than 15 million cartons of fresh citrus, from more than 42,000 acres (16,997 hectares) of owned property, throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim, and processed from its facilities in the San Joaquin Valley, Texas and Mexico. Roll Global is the number one grower and marketer of pistachios, almonds, pomegranates and consumer-branded goods including POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, FIJI Water, Wonderful Almond Accents, Justin Vineyards and Wonderful Pistachios.
Poised for Movement
Located on 44 acres (18 hectares) adjacent to California’s well traveled north-south Highway 99, the plant is directly adjacent to Paramount Farms citrus groves (part of 7,000 citrus acres [2,833 hectares] it has in four counties) and near Delano Municipal Airport, logistics facilities and the Union Pacific rail line. The last big facility investment tracked in Delano by Site Selection’s New Plant Database was a $32-million, 300-job truck-to-rail intermodal facility operated by Railex, in 2008. Paramount is a Railex customer.
Among the Cuties plant’s innovations are a 1.6-MW fuel cell and a 2.7-MW solar plant that together will supply half the facility’s power needs. Moreover, says the company, the world’s longest electronic grader and sizer, at 310 ft., will be deployed. And using precast concrete panels not only shortened construction time (two years) but provides optimum food safety conditions thanks to ease of cleaning.
The plant will be operational six months out of the year (November-April), coinciding with the annual harvest. During peak season, it will run up to 20 hours a day, six days a week. The plant will have the capacity to process 4,000 bins of fruit daily; to fill 800,000 3-pound bags each day; and to accommodate 31 million pounds of Cuties in its cold storage rooms.
Topped only by Tulare County, which at 106,618 acres (43,148 hectares) has a full 40 percent of the state’s citrus acreage, Kern County in 2012 has surpassed 55,000 acres (22,259 hectares), good for 20 percent of the state’s total of more than 414 sq. miles (1,071 sq. km.) devoted to citrus. Overall the state has seen citrus acreage (bearing and non-bearing) increase by nearly 18 percent since 2004. Citrus has been grown in the San Joaquin Valley for over 100 years and is now a $2-billion industry. USDA statistics show that land area devoted to mandarin orange groves tripled between 2002 and 2010.
Paramount Citrus last year purchased a facility in McAllen, Texas, to process limes and other fruits from its thousands of acres of lemon and lime orchards in Victoria and the Tabasco region in Mexico. It also purchased land adjacent to the plant in McAllen for possible future plantings.
Mandarin or Clementine oranges are seedless, but if bees get into the grove they’ll pollinate the trees and cause the fruit to have seeds. Bees are essential for almond groves, as millions of hives are brought into the state each year for that $2.5-billion crop. Paramount Farms also oversees 36,000 acres (14,569 hectares) of almond farms in Kern County, and opened a $24-million almond manufacturing plant in Lost Hills, Calif., in 2009. The conflict between the two crops came to a head a few years ago when Paramount threatened legal action against some beekeepers whose bees were “trespassing” onto Paramount mandarin groves. But for now it's an uneasy truce among groups both human and and non-human.
Separately, the Resnicks are in the midst of a legal and arbitrated disputes with Cuties partner Sun Pacific over the giant advertising budget, and over Sun Pacific’s use of the “Cuties” name on juices it produces through a new 30-employee startup in unincorporated Kern County called Califia Farms. The current Paramount-Sun Pacific marketing agreement expires in 2014.
Watch for follow-up reporting on this project in the January print issue of Site Selection.