TreeSweet to Expand Line for Youth Market

Times Staff Writer

Clinton E. Owens, the tough-talking leader of the Houston-based investor group that bought TreeSweet Products Co. of Santa Ana last week for $31 million, said Monday that he plans to enhance the product line and "get some excitement going" at the 50-year-old company "as quickly as possible."

Owens, 43, resigned suddenly last week as senior vice president-marketing at Coca-Cola Co. Foods Division, which controls Minute Maid, the nation's largest processor of citrus juice products, to become chairman and chief executive of TreeSweet. He was employed at Coca-Cola for more than six years.

"It was a matter of (choosing between) being senior officer in a major corporation and having no other ownership than various stock rights (and) being owner in my own business," he said. "I believe TreeSweet is a company with a tremendous heritage and significant opportunity for niche marketing."

Under his direction, TreeSweet in the near future will introduce new fruit-juice products targeting "youth markets and children's markets," enhance packaging of existing products and step up advertising, among other things, Owens said.

While "we won't try to run head to head with Coca-Cola or (Cincinnati, Ohio-based) Procter & Gamble Co. (which sells Citrus Hill products)," Owens said, he expects TreeSweet's 1985 sales to reach $130 million--about $30 million more than in 1984.

Nonetheless, he said, "having been with Coca-Cola Foods and its Minute Maid business, I'm not afraid of them." Coca-Cola Foods' sales were $1.3 billion in 1983, with products under the Minute Maid name accounting for $800 million.

Owens refused to disclose the names of the other investors involved in buying TreeSweet Dec. 31 from San Francisco-based Di Giorgio Corp. for $1.3 million in cash and a note for about $30 million. However, he said: "I am a significant shareholder" in the company.

Series of Freezes

Peter F. Scott, president of Di Giorgio, which had owned TreeSweet since 1958, said the decision to sell the company was prompted by a recent series of freezes in Florida's citrus crop and an increasingly competitive citrus market that had hurt profits.

"One man's problem is another man's opportunity," Owens said, adding that "things will just get better for TreeSweet employees or I'll be terribly disappointed--and I don't like to be disappointed." TreeSweet employs 100 full-time employees in Santa Ana.

Owens, who earned a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Redlands in 1963, said TreeSweet's processing and packaging plants in Santa Ana and Coachella, Calif., and Fort Pierce, Fla., will be improved in the months ahead.

"His reputation in the industry is as a mover," said Bernard Conroy, president of TreeSweet. "It is a highly competitive business we're in, and it takes a particular sensitivity in business decision making to make the right moves."

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