(Feb. 28) VISALIA, Calif. — Faced with sluggish orange sales this season, Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., has begun a campaign to make oranges and other citrus fruits more convenient to the consumer.

As part of that effort, Sunkist is working on fresh-cut oranges in its testing labs. It will then test the product regionally.

The product should be available at supermarkets nationally within 90 days, said James Padden, vice president and chief operating officer.

Speaking to Sunkist growers at its 109th annual meeting held Feb. 19 in Visalia, Jeff Gargiulo, Sunkist president and chief executive officer, said buyers prefer to deal with one company for all their citrus needs and that includes imports for the off-season. For that reason, he said, Sunkist may expand into imported citrus again, after selling limited supplies of Argentine lemons a couple of years ago.

Sunkist also wants to make citrus more user friendly as company officials discussed plans to improve the image of citrus at the annual meeting.

Speaking to the large audience, Gargiulo said competition is no longer grower-against-grower or packer-against-packer, but product-against-product. Oranges simply face much greater competition in the supermarket, he said.

They now fight for shelf space against year-round production of apples, pears, stone fruit and tropical fruit.

Robert Verloop, vice president of marketing and sales promotion for Sunkist, said citrus has lost some of its share of space in the produce department. “We need more return per square foot,” he said.

“We have to be consumer focused,” he added.

Verloop said Sunkist must get across the message that citrus fruits are fun to eat. “We must equate them to family experiences,” he said.

He also suggested capitalizing on the sensory advantages of oranges.

Sunkist must deliver in providing good taste, scent and color, Verloop said.

“We haven’t told consumers about the goodness on the inside,” he said.