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Seedless Lemons Are The Next Big Bet From The Billionaires Behind Halos, Pom Wonderful And Fiji Water



24 Mar 2023

Seedless Lemons Are The Next Big Bet From The Billionaires Behind Halos, Pom Wonderful And Fiji Water

Seedless Lemons Are The Next Big Bet From The Billionaires Behind Halos, Pom Wonderful And Fiji Water

Oa sunny, 58-degree day in Delano, California, Zak Laffite walks through groves of trees where he grows a special kind of lemon, and then stops to explain how harvesting it works. 

“What we want is the tree to justify how much fruit comes off,” Laffite says. “We don’t want it all to come off at the same time. We basically say, just give me a little bit.” Laffite picks off a lemon. He quickly takes a knife from his pocket and slices open the fruit to reveal the inside: no seeds, with a thin white rim around the edge and a light yellow rind. “We’ll come in here and if the fruit’s this size, it’s ready to come off. If it’s colored up, we’ll get it as well,” Laffite says. That first pick will leave two thirds of the lemons still on the trees. More lemons are picked off in a couple weeks. Then there’s a third round.


“If you do that across so many properties, what you’re doing is you’re basically laying out a very steady supply curve,” Laffite says, before breaking out in a smile. “It’s really about redefining the lemons category.”


These seedless lemons are the latest novelty to hit the grocery store’s citrus section—one that America’s wealthiest farmers are betting will turn the industry on its head. The Wonderful Co., co-owned by husband-and-wife duo Stewart and Lynda Resnick, expects to sell 60 million pounds of the lemons this year. In 15 years, they want their exclusively licensed, seedless version to control 25% of the U.S. fresh lemon market, which would translate to 400 million pounds worth $370 million. Today, the industry is dominated by Sunkist’s estimated 50% share.


Wonderful has shaken up the citrus industry with a little marketing before. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, they sold mandarins with business partners under the brand Cuties; then on their own they marketed the small, seedless fruit rebranded as Halos.


What started out as a land play to hedge against inflation in 1978 has transformed into one of America’s largest private farming companies. Wonderful has swelled to $5 billion in annual sales. It’s grown from an equal combination of Stewart’s foresight to invest in Central Valley land and discipline running highly profitable farms over four decades, just as much as Lynda’s gift for marketing. Half of American households have purchased one of Wonderful’s products.

That kind of popularity turned the Resnicks into billionaires, worth an estimated $5.3 billion each, and has secured Lynda a spot among the richest self-made women in America. Their wealth comes from pistachios, almonds, Fiji Water, the pomegranate juice Pom Wonderful and wine, as well as fruit like seedless lemons. But citrus is their oldest farming line—the first acres they bought had citrus and some almond trees—and citrus remains one of Wonderful’s biggest divisions.


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