Cathie Anderson: Familiar face takes over as leader at Yuba City’s Sunsweet Growers

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

Dane Lance spent more than 20 years proving he has what it takes for the plum role of chief executive officer at Yuba City’s Sunsweet Growers Inc., where he helped drive household penetration for prunes up by 40 percent in the last decade.

Lance officially took the helm of the company Sunday following the retirement of Arthur Driscoll II. Lance said Driscoll has left the grower-owned marketing cooperative in great shape for the future. Sunsweet’s sales peaked at $325 million in 2010 and stood at $311 million last year. Co-op members have held their acreage steady while independent prune plum growers have pulled out roughly 10,000 acres of the fruit to plant other crops in the last two years.

“Art’s contributions to Sunsweet cannot be overstated,” Lance said. “His business insight and strong leadership during a period of severe global oversupply has enabled Sunsweet’s grower-member returns to consistently outperform the market.”

Driscoll appointed Lance to be Sunsweet’s president in October 2012. Over the years, Lance played a key role in marketing such proprietary product innovations as Plum Amazins, canisters of diced dried plums that can be added to salads, oatmeal and other foods, and Ones, canisters of individually wrapped prunes. Sales of proprietary products now make up 15 percent of sales for Sunsweet’s 300 growers.

Big changes at Mimi’s

The Sacramento region got its first taste Monday of what the new owners of Mimi’s Café plan to serve up for lunch and dinner: bouillabaisse, brioche croque madame (grilled ham and cheese with fried egg on top) and mussels a la Mimi.

The privately owned multinational known as Groupe Le Duff, based in Rennes, France, acquired all 145 Mimi’s restaurants from Bob Evans Farms in March for $50 million. The restaurants were struggling, with comparable sales down 4.7 percent in Bob Evans’ fiscal second-quarter report.

Groupe Le Duff is betting that it can bring in customers with the same kind of French cuisine that has made its La Madeleine restaurants a success in Texas, Maryland and other states. Le Duff also owns 300 Brueggers Bagels restaurants that will be familiar to former residents of Canada and 24 U.S. states including New York and Massachusetts. Company officials say they’re restoring Mimi’s to its founders’ guiding principles.

“They’re all about fresh ingredients, and they’ve gotten rid of all the microwaves,” said Lindsey Latham, who’s handling the rollout of the new restaurants for Le Duff America. “It’s a whole new Mimi’s.”

Phil Costner, the new president of Le Duff America, and Mimi’s executive chef Katie Sutton, previously the executive chef at Hess Collection Winery in Napa, will be in town next week to meet with staffers and review restaurant operations. Groupe Le Duff has worldwide sales of more than $1.5 billion and more than 1,110 restaurants and bakeries.

The destination is ...

Cindy and Marshall Davis are inviting customers to Lincoln on Saturday for the grand opening of the new tasting room for their Davis Dean Cellars, but they’re a little worried that people won’t find it.

“It’s right in downtown Lincoln at the historic Lincoln Brand Feeds building, but if you put 448 Lincoln Boulevard into your GPS, it will send you down the street because Lincoln Boulevard used to be Highway 65,” said Cindy Davis, “so if you put 448 G Street, that’s what GPS is recognizing. I think there’s a lag in the GPS because they changed the name of the street.”

The tasting room will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and by appointment for groups. Marshall Davis, a self-taught winemaker who works full-time as a systems analyst at Intel, buys his grapes from vineyards in Napa, Lodi and Placer County. With his 2009 and 2010 Zynthia zinfandels, he’s won silver at the California State Fair competitions every year since 2011. His initial commercial output was 100 cases in 2009, and that grew to 400 cases this year.

“The idea is to be able to grow, but the dream is not about producing bulk wines,” said Cindy Davis, whose maiden name is Dean. “It’s really about putting our heart and soul into every bottle that’s produced and have that quality control.”

When people try the wines, she said, they buy them. The Davises created a wine-production facility at their home in Rocklin.

Power of ‘Shark Tank’

Christopher Johnson, the inventor of the Rapid Ramen microwavable cooker, is sorting through an avalanche of more than 4,000 emails since he appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Friday night. “I’m in a tornado right now,” he said. “ It’s absolutely bonkers from supermarkets to distributors to sales reps to other investors that want to finance me. You name it, people are trying to track me down.” At least orders have slowed to six a minute at www.rapidramen.com, down from as many as 25 a minute Friday night. That’s what happens when you appear on a show with nearly 7 million viewers. Billionaire Mark Cuban, the shark that Johnson hoped he would land, invested $300,000 in the microwavable ramen cooker to get 15 percent equity.