That’s because the company has developed a laundry list of products that have become everyday items for the industry — like seedless watermelons, elongated peppers, red flame seedless grapes and some of the industry’s most recognizable proprietary table grape and citrus products.

Unfortunately, even company officials admit that innovation took a back seat in recent years as the company embarked on a financial roller-coaster ride marked by a couple of dizzying drops into the depths of bankruptcy.

But as the firm begins its 30th anniversary year, those officials say Sun World is zooming upward once again, and this time there’s no downside in sight.

LIFTED FROM BANKRUPTCY

Black Diamond Capital Management LLC, Lake Forest, Ill., bought the firm out of its second bankruptcy at auction last February for nearly $128 million.

Black Diamond has supported expansion plans for Sun World and hired as its president a skilled industry leader known for his financial acumen as well as penchants for growth and innovation.

Bruce Burton, the company’s chief executive officer, could hardly control his enthusiasm as he related how Sun World’s new owners recently stamped their approval on the road map he has drawn up to guide the company into the future.

The ride Burton has mapped out is an ambitious one.

“We would like to see the company double in size in a five- to seven-year time frame,” he said.

The company does slightly more than the $110 million in business it did in 2001 that it has listed on its Web site, Burton said.

LOOKING AHEAD

Brought on board last July after 13 years with Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Westlake Village, then five years running two companies that he still owns, California Fruit Processors LLC and Produce Quality Assurance LLC, both in Stockton, it didn’t take Burton long to develop a list of goals:

  • increase acreage;


  • divest assets that do not fit the company’s long-term strategic plan;


  • expand the product line;


  • pursue contraseasonal sourcing to provide year-round availability for proprietary and conventional products;


  • expand Sun World’s licensing program worldwide; and


  • beef up quality assurance and food safety.



Already this season, the company has expanded its Southern California acreage by 10%, the first time in several years acreage has gone up rather than down.

The increase includes existing commodities like the Midnight Beauty seedless table grape and Honeycot May-season apricot.

NEW PRODUCTS

There also are new products in the mix:

  • the Scarlotta late-season, red seedless table grape;


  • some late-season, white table grape varieties;


  • the Black Giant plum line; and


  • the late-season Applum, a plum with an applelike taste.


  • Although planting now is taking place, Burton cautioned that it will take years before these new items are widely available commercially.

    The promotion of company veteran David Fenn to senior vice president of quality assurance marks the firm’s renewed commitment to quality control and food safety, an area that Burton said didn’t receive enough prominence in the past.

    These objectives are only the beginning.

    “There may be joint ventures and acquisitions in our future,” Burton said, but any such ventures would have to make sense for the business.

    “My experience in this industry is that acquisitions in totally brand new areas are frequently damaging to shareholder value,” he said.