Sunnyside Packing Company: 65 years of uniting small growers to deliver a quality product
Since 1948, Sunnyside Packing has worked on behalf of their growers to provide buyers with a fresh, local and quality product.
The original founders, Fred Hirasuna, Minoru Omata and Morries Cocola, started the company with the goal of putting smaller growers under one brand to reduce their susceptibility to tough market and buying conditions. The three partners opened doors for business in Fresno, but soon outgrew the location. In 1977, Sunnyside Packing moved to the current Selma location, which better served the needs of the business.
“At the time, there was a need to be close to the freeway and close to the railroad tracks,” said General Manager Todd Hirasuna.
Todd, third-generation member of the family operation, and his father, Stuart Hirasuna, are the current operators.
Sunnyside Packing was originally the marketing arm for the Strawberry Exchange Cooperative, but the relationship ended when the cooperative dissolved in the 1980s. Shortly after, the company became vertically integrated by introducing its own farming operation. Today, Sunnyside Packing has a total of 1,200 to 1,300 acres in production. The company’s own farming operation consists of 650 acres, roughly 65 percent of the total acreage. The remaining 35 percent of the acreage is contributed by 100 outside growers.
The company became a member of FCFB in 1982. Since most growers do not have the resources to fully advocate on their behalf, Sunnyside Packing felt it was important to join an organization that gave a voice to what the industry and growers face, said Hirasuna. Sunnyside Packing furthered its support of FCFB by becoming a Friends of the Family Farm sponsor in 2011.
“We do our own sales and marketing, which allows the growers to do what they do best so they can provide for their families,” said Hirasuna. “We provide clients with a one-stop-shop and work to expand markets and re-invent the wheel to keep the products viable for our growers.”
The company packs and markets all of the produce it handles. By combining smaller and larger quantities of produce, Sunnyside Packing is able to raise the volume of product, which attracts retailers, wholesalers and brokers. This provides their clients with stable market conditions and takes away the worry of who will cool, package and ship their produce.
Sales and marketing are more important now than ever before. “It’s about making your business unique in any which way possible,” said Hirasuna. The company primarily markets produce in the nine western states and occasionally sells further east. The company has exported produce as far north as Canada and as far south as Mexico.
“We start earlier and go later than anyone else,” said Hirasuna of California’s typical harvest season which makes produce grown here even more valuable. Sunnyside Packing’s season begins in May and ends in November.
On a daily basis, growers bring their produce to the company in the afternoon; larger growers will bring product in throughout the day. The company will then cool, store and, if needed, package the produce. From about 4 p.m. to 1 or 2 a.m., the company ships the produce to its destination.
Sunnyside Packing employs 20 full-time staff year round, an average of 50 seasonal employees and between 400 and 450 field staff during peak harvest.
“We do anything we can to create more efficiency and be more environmentally conscience,” said Hirasuna. He emphasized the importance of recycling everything. In addition, the company recently replaced insulation in the buildings and overhauled their old refrigeration system to become more efficient.
With 65 years of experience, the company looks ahead to what they can do to improve their operation and better serve their clients.
Sunnyside Packing offers an array of quality, fresh produce which includes bell peppers, tomatoes, summer and winter squash, chili peppers, onions, eggplant, blue lake beans and various specialty products. For more information, visit www.sunnysidepacking.com.
Friends of the Family Farm Spotlight Profile: Ag Today, Jan 13
By: Audra Roland