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California

Sunkist Chief Resigns After Troubled 2-Year Reign

November 23, 2000|MELINDA FULMER SUNKIST GROWERS INC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just 2 1/2 years after he took the reins of Sunkist Growers, the nation's largest citrus cooperative, Chief Executive Vincent Lupinacci is leaving.

Lupinacci, a veteran of the food and amusement industries, said in a statement released Wednesday that he is leaving effective immediately for "personal and family reasons." He was not available for comment.

Sunkist growers and staff members say the announcement took them by surprise. However, they conceded that it has been a tough two years for the citrus business and for Lupinacci.

Lupinacci took charge of Sunkist just as 1998's orange crop was devastated by a freeze and as quality problems in 1999 sent orange prices plummeting. Lupinacci also withstood a backlash from its member growers as the cooperative decided to market lemons from Argentina.

"The pressure for someone to move into this industry and have all of this dumped onto their plate . . . it had to overwhelming," said Joel Nelson, president of California Citrus Mutual, an industry trade group.

Meanwhile, prospects are finally looking up for California's citrus crop as growers this year have begun picking better-quality fruit.

Before coming to Sunkist, Lupinacci had served as president of Six Flags Amusement in New Jersey and senior vice president of the bottling division of PepsiCo Inc. and had held various positions with consumer packaged-goods companies.

Sunkist's board of directors has already appointed James H. Mast, chairman of Sunkist's board and a 40-year veteran of the citrus business, as acting president.

The cooperative will begin looking for a replacement for Lupinacci immediately, said spokesman Mike Wootton.

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