RRG-backed Sun World targets new markets and enhanced crops

Sun World sold its California farmland and elevated its former head of breeding and technology to CEO so it can focus on making breeding and technology investments

David Marguleas
David Marguleas

New Sun World CEO David Marguleas says the firm is developing a business plan that will leverage its expertise in table grape and stonefruit breeding, in order to access new markets.

“The initial list is about half a dozen different fresh fruit items,” he said, declining to identify the crops. “The secondary list is a similar number that we would explore over the course of the next couple of years.”

Renewable Resources Group-backed Sun World elevated Marguleas from his previous role as executive vice-president in mid-August, a role in which he spent seven years where he was responsible for the company’s breeding, technology and licensing unit.

Sun World is focused on large-scale permanent specialty crops with potential to impact global trade flows, Marguleas said.

The company identifies crops that can be grown in multiple regions and conditions, and are in need of some form of improvement in genetics, diversity or flavor profiles.

“There have been complaints for decades about the lack of flavor in peaches, plums nectarines and apricots,” Marguleas offered by example.  “We and other breeders are working hard to address that.”

Consumer preferences in table grapes vary between regions, Marguleas said, highlighting Europeans’ preference for the tropical flavor of Muscat variety grapes, and American consumers’ recently-increased demand for grapes with flavors of strawberry, lemon or cotton-candy.

While Sun World’s principle focus is on conventional breeding of fresh fruit crops, the company has also started incorporating molecular breeding technologies that can speed up the process of developing new varieties, Marguleas said.

Looking ahead, both approaches are likely to be of focus for Sun World, said Marguleas, as the company pursues plans for both organic growth and acquisitions.

“To ignore the opportunities that molecular breeding brings would be a disservice to plant-breeding. By the same token, the vast majority of our attention and most plant breeders’ is still on conventional plant-breeding,” Marguleas said.

Sun World supplies its table grape and stonefruit varieties to growers in 14 countries on a lease-basis, where farmers rent plant material, own the fruit produced and pay an annual production royalty.

Plant material is distributed to nurseries in five countries where Sun World staff then direct propagation of plant material according to an internal, variety-specific global supply and demand model, Marguleas explained.

In May, Sun World sold its California farmland to a group on unnamed investors in a vehicle called Famous Vineyards for an undisclosed price.

Merrill Dibble – who was then chief executive – said the sale would allow Sun World to focus on breeding and technology investments.

In the mid-August statement that announced Marguleas’ promotion, the former ‘Sun World International’ said it rebranded to Sun World, and that Dibble will now transition to a new role as head of RRG’s agricultural operations.