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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

Sunkist Growers

There have been citrus groves in California since the late 18th century, when the Spanish mission-builders brought seeds with them from Mexico. Eighty years later, trapper-trader-turned settler William Wolfskill was the first to operate a successful orange shipping business from his ranch, located in what is now downtown Los Angeles. In 1855 he purchased the Rancho La Puente in the San Gabriel Valley and planted it with several thousand orange and lemon trees. Within a few years, Wolfskill had the largest citrus orchard in the United States.

Orange groves sprouted throughout the Los Angeles area (known then as the Orange Empire), north into the Central Valley, and on the banks of the Santa Clara River where the soil is so rich that citrus grows better there than anywhere else in the state. In 1893 growers along the Ventura and Santa Clara Rivers formed the precursor to Sunkist, today the world’s largest organization of citrus production. P.J. Dreher and his son Edward, and several other prominent citrus farmers, formed the Southern California Fruit Exchange in Claremont, which initially included growers from Los Angeles County, Orange and Riverside Counties. Later, the co-op expanded to include citrus farmers in San Bernadino and Ventura Counties.

The Exchange originally represented only orange growers, but three years later, lemon growers joined as well. By 1905, the group had 5,000 members, or 45 percent of the California citrus industry, and renamed itself the California Fruit Growers Exchange.

In 1920, citrus was second only to oil among California’s industries, and by 1924, more than 52,000 acres of trees in Los Angeles County were producing about 20 million boxes of the fruit annually. In 1952, following a successful advertising campaign which described the product as “sun-kissed,” the California Fruit Growers Exchange changed its name to Sunkist Growers, Inc.

Today, Sunkist is the largest fresh produce shipper of fresh oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, and tangerines in the United States. In addition to fresh fruit, the company has rented its trademark to other firms for marketing more than 600 citrus-flavored products, such as juices, soft drinks, jellies and candies, which sell internationally. Its headquarters are currently in Valencia, California.

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