(July 21) In January, Sunkist Growers Inc. lost its chief executive officer. Now, the Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based citrus cooperative is losing its largest producer.

Paramount Citrus Association Inc., which last year supplied 12 million boxes of Sunkist’s total volume of 70 million boxes of citrus, is leaving the co-op to strike out on its own.

Delano, Calif.-based Paramount is the largest individual citrus grower in the U.S., and the company had an exclusive supply contract with Sunkist for the past 16 years.

Paramount president David Krause, who left his post as Sunkist chairman earlier this year, said Paramount’s departure from the co-op has partly to do to Sunkist’s change in leadership.

In January, Jeff Gargiulo announced he was stepping down as Sunkist’s chief executive officer. Gargiulo’s contract expired in June, at which time Paramount sent Sunkist a letter of intent to leave the co-op to do business on its own.

Sunkist says it expects to hire a replacement for Gargiulo by the end of the summer — well ahead of the start of California’s navel orange harvest in November.

“I’d say somewhat,” Krause said when asked whether his company leaving Sunkist is related to Gargiulo’s departure. “I’d say Jeff, myself and the Paramount organization have had a close working relationship, with me holding the office of chairman the last couple of years.”

In April, Gargiulo joined Sundia Corp., a two-year-old San Francisco-based watermelon marketer, as its chairman.

Krause stepped down as Sunkist’s chairman in March but remained on the board through June.

Paramount, which grows in several regions of California, will continue to supply Sunkist through Oct. 31, the end of the latter’s fiscal year, Krause said.

Sunkist spokeswoman Claire Smith said the co-op would replace the volume Paramount had supplied in time for the next California citrus deal.

“We’re always talking to people,” she said. “We’re talking to a lot of other people who are interested in joining Sunkist.”

Losing Paramount is not an alarming — or even unusual — occurrence, Smith said.

“We are a volunteer organization, so it’s not unusual for us to have people in and out of this system,” she said. “They are a little bit larger than most. There may be some short-term effects, but we don’t expect any long-term effects from it.”