Photo report of Sumo Citrus grove and new Navel packing line
"Sumo Citrus® is challenging to grow, but the flavor is exceptional"

On a beautiful Californian winter's day, FreshPlaza visited the packing house and citrus groves of Suntreat, best known for its beautifully ugly Sumo Citrus fruit. “Sumo Citrus is a challenging citrus fruit to grow,” says Brett Burdsal as we tour the groves and witness the fruit being picked. It is a very delicate citrus variety and to prevent the fruit from getting damaged, all Sumo Citrus are hand-picked and put in totes instead of giant bins. “The picking crew is well-trained, and they know exactly which ones to pick and which ones to leave on the tree,” Burdsal commented. “Sumo Citrus needs to be treated gently, just like stone fruit.”

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Sumo citrus being picked with clippers

Experimenting with exports
After being picked, Sumo Citrus are transported to the packing house where they are washed, sanitized and waxed. A special wax has been developed, just for Sumo Citrus. The fruit is dried off right away and stored in a refrigerated area. “It takes about a week for the acid level to drop to the right balance of brix and acids,” says Suntreat’s Dan Kass. After that, the fruit is ready to be shipped. “The majority of Sumo Citrus stay in the US, but right now, we have test pallets on the water between LA and Rotterdam,” mentioned Kass. “They are imported by van Ooijen and Jaguar from Barendrecht, The Netherlands. They store really well, so I am confident they will arrive well. “We’ve also done a small air shipment to Europe through AMS Export, but air shipment is relatively expensive.”  We are excited to be exporting this trial shipment and look forward to growing that market.

Demand exceeds supply
Although the fruit may not look appealing at first, it has been out long enough for people to know what it is and appreciate it for its exceptional flavor. With new acreage coming into production every year, more and more consumers get exposed to Sumo Citrus. This year, about 20 percent of US consumers see Sumo Citrus in stores and demand already exceeds supply. 

Brett Burdsal and Dan Kass in the Sumo citrus grove

Gold Nuggets re-branded to Suki®
Although known for Sumo Citrus, Suntreat has a lot more to offer. “We will start picking Gold Nuggets in about two weeks,” said Burdsal. “Our product is grown and packed differently as few suppliers pick with clippers and puts the fruit in totes.”  We feel that this delicate harvesting and handling produces better tasting fruit and better shelf life.  To differentiate the product from other Gold Nugget fruit in the market, Suntreat went through a re-brand. “The new brand is called Suki, which means To Love in Japanese”. They will be available through early May.

Navel packing line
Navel oranges make up about 50 percent of Suntreat’s citrus volume. This past winter, the company made a significant investment in a new Navel packing line. It is a highly automated packing line with the latest optical sorting technology and stainless-steel construction. “The line is manufactured by MAF, and we are the first North American company with the new state of the art MAF packing line. It’s the most advanced packing line in North America,” Kass shared. “We can process more fruit more efficiently than ever before.” 

Navel packing line from MAF Industries

The line contains Print on Demand from Hurst International. Hurst’s Versaprint labeling system allows for more flexibility and takes up a smaller area on top of the sizer to run the labels. “We have two Print on Demand banks with Dual Cassette Systems, allowing us to run four different style PLUs at the same time,” said Kass.

Click here for the photo report.

For more information:
Brett Burdsal
Tel: (+1) 559-562-4988

Publication date: 2/27/2018
Author: Marieke Hemmes

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