Sunsweet Growers Inc.

Sunsweet Growers Hit Marketing Home Run with Help of USDA-VAPG

Recipient of 2011 and 2014 USDA Value Added Producer grants.

Sunsweet Growers Inc. combined the recent award of a Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with its own matching funds and the cooperative’s own demographic intel to develop a marketing strategy for high-end prune products. Early results reveal substantially increased sales and greater returns to growers.

The value added product is called the D’Noir Prune, which Stephanie Harralson, senior product manager, described as using the California Reserve Prune, the highest quality dried plum (based on original fruit size and quality), processed without preservatives.

“The D’Noir Prune is what we have labeled our ‘Best Tasting Prune Yet,’” she said. The new process delivers end products that have marketable taste differences.

Marketing terms associated with the D’Noir prunes, she noted, are “fresh tasting,” with improved fruity taste and a more juicy texture.

This VAPG award was used for marketing the new products to grocery trade customers and to create some marketing materials for end consumers, specifically ads placed on premium television shows. The 2014 grant was for $200,000, which enabled development of materials for sales team presentations targeting retailers and a TV spot that updated segments from past advertising collateral specifically for the new prune products.

Since the original VAPG project, product availability has spread across national markets. “We have found we are reaching a new, different consumer, one that is younger and interested in a premium product,” she said.

The campaign resulted in 26 percent growth in D’Noir Prune sales across all outlets nationwide. The marketing effort allowed Sunsweet to expand D’Noir Prunes nationwide, and it is currently the number four best selling product in the prune category.

Sunsweet Growers is a 270-grower member California cooperative with its main processing facility in Yuba City.

Earlier VAPG Project

Three years earlier, Sunsweet Growers Inc. received a $300,000 VAPG grant to build awareness among commercial and industrial customers for its Plum Amazins diced dried prune products. The VAPG project was to educate about food taste, texture and health benefits and uses of the new product line in international (in particular Hong Kong) and U.S. markets. The project covered development of website materials, brochures, culinary applications, video promotions and trade group advertising and seminars. 


VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.

Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (