(Dec. 10, 2:15 p.m.) The largest independent citrus grower-packer-shipper in California is getting bigger, with plans to expand clementine production.

Delano-based Paramount Citrus Association has acquired 1,000 acres of stone fruit from the George family, owners of George Bros. Inc., Sultana, Calif., said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus. The purchase is part of the company’s long-range strategic plan, he said, the first leg of which was the decision in 2006 to leave Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif.

“Our departure from Sunkist was largely driven by our desire to get closer to the customer, to not have any filters between us and the customer,” Krause said. “It’s very important for us to be close to the customer and the consumer, so we know how and where to grow our business.”

The stone fruit acreage, in southeastern Fresno County just a few miles north of the Fresno-Tulare county line, will be converted by 2011 to citrus, specifically for the company’s Cuties California Clementines brand, he said. In the interim, Paramount will likely lease the orchards to a stone fruit grower-shipper.

The purchase does not involve the George Bros. packing facility or business.

“This is purely a land acquisition to grow our Cutie business.” Krause said.

Paramount Citrus operates its own nursery, which he said gives the company a strategic advantage.

“We grow all of our own trees,” Krause said. “We’re very focused on quality; it’s an important aspect for us, and we’re able to control the quality of development.”

The new land marks the second major expansion for Paramount Citrus this year. In March, the company bought 6,000 acres of mostly lemon acreage in Mexico.

The pending planting of mandarins for the Cuties label is another leg of the strategic plan.

“Customers are specifically asking for Cuties,” Krause said. “It’s a fantastic brand, because it’s a fantastic product.”

The Cuties are selling well this season, he said, and customers are signaling there is a need to increase the supply. The acquisition of the George family property also signals future Paramount Citrus plans.

“Yes, we’re going to continue to look for growth opportunities,” Krause said.

Paramount Citrus buys Fresno County acreage
Part of the strategic plan at Paramount Citrus Association is an increase in supply of the company's Cuties California Clementines brand. “Customers are specifically asking for Cuties,” says Paramount president David Krause.