Spanish clementines have successfully been re-branded as cuties:
Cuties have their origin in a 1990 freeze that badly damaged California’s citrus harvest. Mr. Evans, a stockbroker-turned-farmer and already into tomatoes, oranges and kiwi at the time, caught wind of the fact that Spanish clementines were selling well on the East Coast. “Supermarket chains told me, ‘If you can grow ‘em, they’ll sell,’” he recalls.
He hired experts to confirm that the fruit could endure the San Joaquin Valley’s weather extremes. He dispatched his oldest son to research clementine groves abroad. “Put my inheritance in clementines,” Mr. Evans recalls his son, Barney, telling him over the phone.
Ready to bet big, Mr. Evans signed a deal with a nursery in 1996 to multiply clementine trees and sell them exclusively to him, locking in a head start over rivals. Still, Mr. Evans was worried about a certain set of neighbors—the Resnicks, who ran one of the country’s largest fruit and nut operations.
The Resnicks made a fortune marketing coins and collectibles before turning California pomegranate groves into the Pom Wonderful juice brand.
“I thought, ‘If Stew [Resnick] hears I’m growing clementines, he’s going to compete. He’s a big-money guy who can overdo everything,’” says Mr. Evans, who already jointly owned with the Resnicks a corrugated-box plant for packing fruit. In 1997, Mr. Evans approached the Resnicks about cooperating. The Resnicks’ Paramount Citrus and Mr. Evans’ Sun Pacific agreed to grow and commercialize equal quantities of the fruit under one brand. A smaller grower, Fowler Packing Co., joined them later.
The Cuties moniker was born at a meeting in the Resnick business offices. At the meeting, Mrs. Resnick picked up a clementine, studied it and deemed it “so cute,” according to two people who were present. The name “Cuties” was trademarked in 2001.
Paramount Citrus and Sun Pacific jointly own the trademark, a shared arrangement that is “extremely unusual,” according to R. Polk Wagner, a professor of trademark law at the University of Pennsylvania.
The agreement stipulated the Resnicks would develop advertising and marketing. Mr. Evans’ team would pack, sell and distribute to retailers. Mr. Evans says he spent $65 million to build a state-of-the art facility to sort, clean and pack most of the group’s fruit.
The clementine that Mr. Evans first planted in Maricopa, Calif., ripens in the fall and early winter. Seeking to extend the growing season, he later learned of a clementine-like seedless mandarin that could be harvested in late January to May. That fruit, the W. Murcott Afourer, originally hailed from Morocco. “I wanted to patent it,” he says, frowning at the memory. Instead, he discovered “this guy Mulholland has commercialized it.”
That person is Thomas Mulholland, a nurseryman, citrus grower and great-grandson of the engineer for whom Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles is named. Mr. Mulholland says he started planting the W. Murcott after scouring the globe for new citrus varieties that would thrive in California. He trademarked the name Delite.
But the W. Murcott didn’t find its wide audience until Sun Pacific and Paramount started planting and selling them as Cuties.Sun Pacific and Paramount would “single-handedly change the industry,” says Mr. Mulholland, who is among their competitors.