Jeff Gargiulo's five-year stint is winding down at Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., but the outgoing president and chief executive officer still had plenty of things on his mind on the eve of Sunkist's annual meeting.

During a Feb. 21 interview with The Packer, Gargiulo discussed myriad topics, including Sunkist's updated quality control program, the company's expanding global operations and marketing programs aimed at children.

The interview coincided with Sunkist's announcement that it had reached an agreement to be the official fresh fruit in Six Flags' 29 North American theme parks.

"It's getting easier to convince a lot of people to provide healthier food," said Gargiulo, who announced Jan. 19 that he would not renew his contract with the citrus marketing cooperative when it expires June 13.

During Gargiulo's watch, Sunkist has partnered with Little League Baseball and the Sesame Workshop, which produces the TV show "Sesame Street." It also gave away lemonade stands to children for fundraisers in its Take a Stand promotion.

Sunkist broadened its product line in recent years and has more than a dozen citrus products in retail stores during the specialty season. The cooperative also expanded into global sourcing during Gargiulo's tenure, and four days after he announced his resignation he was in Chile.

"Chile will continue to increase in clementines and naval oranges, but I don't think Chile has the volume that South Africa and Australia have at this point," he said. "I think the next place Sunkist needs to focus on is Spain and clementines."

Peru's potential also intrigues Gargiulo. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering approval of Peruvian citrus imports. The U.S.-Peru free trade agreement took effect Dec. 7.

Sunkist's international business also includes exports, and Gargiulo had his eye on China, where the population, demand for citrus and the domestic crop are all growing.

Sunkist has an office in Hong Kong, but Gargiulo said that wasn't good enough.

"China is a major market for Sunkist," he said. "The time is coming fast that we will need to have an office in China on the mainland. We have amazing brand loyalty in China. There are many opportunities we could take advantage of there if we were there and had a more direct focus."

Source: The Packer Online Extra