Accelerating Innovation in Permanent Specialty Crops
Established late 2015, Sun World Innovations is the technology and licensing arm of Sun World International LLC, the US based producer and marketer of fresh fruit. As part of its overarching mission to supply more and consistent supplies of delicious fruit varieties, Sun World Innovations explores technologies in crop input, water, harvest and labor efficiencies, along with plant breeding. To accelerate solutions aimed at real challenges faced by the agriculture sector, Sun World Innovations joined SVG Partners’ THRIVE program in Q1 of this year to identify cutting edge technologies and harness its own extensive horticultural expertise and international licensee platform with growers and marketers globally.
“We believe that emerging agriculture technologies will become even more vital to permanent specialty crop agriculture. We’re excited about our new affiliation with THRIVE and believe that its dynamic platform is both timely and uniquely suited to helping us and others nurture and support relevant tech start-ups,” said David Marguleas, President, Sun World Innovations in a statement released in April. Shortly after the company became the latest corporate partner to join the THRIVE AgTech Venture & Innovation Platform, David Marguleas joined Emily Breslin, Marketing Manager SVG Partners/ THRIVE to discuss the company’s strategy and key objectives.
An Interview with David Marguleas, President, Sun World Innovations
Emily Breslin: Tell us about your parent company, Sun World International.
David Marguleas: Sun World produces and markets fresh table grapes on its farms throughout California’s main grape growing regions. The company was founded in 1976. Its Ag Technology and licensing business, while existing in different forms since the late 1990s, was launched as Sun World Innovations in December 2015.
EB: What was the impetus behind Sun World Innovations? What is its primary function?
DM: The impetus behind creating Sun World Innovations was to consolidate the management of two legacy businesses (fruit breeding and licensing) and to create a framework for assessing new technologies relevant to the permanent specialty crops integral to Sun World’s farming operation and those of its licensees around the world. As labor availability and efficiency continues to challenge us, along with environmental and regulatory hurdles, we are increasingly seeking more efficient ways to farm, pack and bring fresh produce to market. Many Ag Technology companies are focused on large scale agronomic crops. We believe there is a defined need for greater innovation to be applied to permanent specialty crops such as grapes, stonefruit, nuts, citrus and apples as well.
EB: What is Sun World Innovations AgTech strategy?
DM: Sun World Innovations goal is to nurture and support new agriculture technology start-ups by leveraging its own horticultural and agronomic experience and skills – and its broad based international producer-marketer licensing platform – and advancing those technologies amongst the permanent specialty crop sector.
EB: From a startup’s viewpoint, what areas are ripe for disruption/ innovation within specialty crops, or more specifically, at Sun World?
DM: We continue to see opportunities for combining technologies and aggregating data and more specifically, for doing so with regard to automation and enhanced efficiencies on high labor intensive permanent specialty crops. While more data from sensors, drones, cameras and other vehicles will guide improved processes, aggregation of that data will lead to incremental advances in orchard, grove and vineyard management. We’re eager to hear from tech startups that take the time to learn about real agriculture industry challenges and then build solutions to tackle those challenges and to facilitate better and robust decision-making on the farm, in the packinghouse and throughout the distribution system.
EB: What types of technologies/ innovations will allow Sun World to create and capture value?
DM: As with many specialty crop producers, we and our global licensee partners operate in an extraordinarily competitive and largely commodity oriented environment where supply and price ebb and flow daily with volatility and unpredictability. Anything that enables us to produce and market fruit with more certainty and efficiency, or that affords us a distinctive competitive advantage, would enable us to create and capture value.
EB: What attracted you to the THRIVE ecosystem, and what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
DM: Many Ag Technologies efforts aim to provide solutions for large-scale agronomic crops. We are encouraged by THRIVE’s effort to facilitate technologies that also benefit permanent specialty crops. Its Silicon Valley and Salinas Valley, California locations inspires innovation relevant to California agriculture and to producers elsewhere striving to excel. The Sun World Innovations team looks forward to learning more about tech startups and investors that are eager to make a difference in agriculture. The THRIVE ecosystem seems uniquely positioned to enable that learning process.
EB: What resources or opportunities are available to innovation partners that engage with Sun World Innovations?
DM: We operate large-scale farms throughout California and for more than four decades have worked to develop a keen understanding of how to breed, farm and market new fruit varieties with exceptional flavor. For potential relevant innovation partners, we believe our farms and our people offer a meaningful platform to assess and perhaps commercialize new Ag Technologies, particularly those well suited to the fruit industry.