A Conversation with Sam Parnagian– A “Cuties” Farmer!


  • “Cuties” are in season from October through April
  • The mandarins are shipped internationally
  • “Cuties” are sweeter than other brands due to the strict quality control that comes with the label
"Cuties" at My Parents' House

"Cuties" at My Parents' House

Kerry Friend, a chemistry professor at Cal Poly, said:

“I buy other brands of mandarins in the off seasons for the fruit, but I prefer ‘Cuties’. I couldn’t tell you why though… they just taste better.”– Kerry Friend

Like Kerry, I have noticed many other consumers saying this same thing and wondering why “Cuties” are superior to other brands.

Luckily, I had a chance to talk to Sam Parnagian. His family owns Fowler Packing Company, which grows many of the mandarins for the “Cuties” brand. Here is our conversation:

Q: What all does your family grow?

A: We grow peaches, plums, nectarines, grapes, apricots, blueberries and “Cuties”.

Q: What is your most successful product?

A: Right now our grapes, peaches, and nectarines, but in the future “Cuties” should be the most successful.

Q: Could you tell me a little bit about the process of getting your mandarins into the stores? Such as how they’re grown, harvested and packaged?

A: Well, we plant a “Cutie” tree and it will take three years for it to first start producing. The tree has a life of 30 years. We harvest in the winter season in fields from Fresno to Arvin. Then, we truck them from the fields to our state of the art packing plant, which just opened two weeks ago. Once they are packed in boxes, our shipping department ships them across the nation and overseas.

Q: What is the typical season for “Cuties”?

A: The season is usually October through April.

Q: Was your season affected by the weather at all this year?

A: Not really. The colder summer delayed them about a week.

Q: So, many people have been asking me, “Why are Cuties so much better than all the other brands of mandarins?”… Is there a process at your farm that makes them sweeter than other companies’?

Sam Outside of His House in SLO

Sam Outside of His House in SLO

A: Well, the “Cuties” label has stricter quality control than other mandarins. We toss out any mandarin that is not up to code with the “Cutie” label. When they first enter the packing plant they are looked over by hand for any exterior defects, then every “Cutie” goes under an infrared eye that looks for any defects on the inside. And then we have random taste sampling.

Q: Can you estimate how many cases of “Cuties” your farm sells during your peak season?

A: We usually sell four million boxes and that number should be tripled in the upcoming years.

After having this discussion with Sam, I went home for Thanksgiving. I spoke about it with my friend Katheryn MacPherson (an employee of Ace Hardware in Davis) and she said:

“Wow, I didn’t realize that much went into growing ‘Cuties’. And it didn’t occur to me that they were grown so close to home.”– Katheryn MacPherson

I hope that all of you find the interview as interesting as Katheryn did!


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by James Daniels on January 29, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Absolutely the best…the stores can’t keep enough on the shelf here in Pensacola Florida. We were fortunate enough to buy about 4 bags before the supply ran out.


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