Sun World appoints new executive VP, chief science officer

Jennifer Peterson, new executive vice president and chief science officer.
Jennifer Peterson, new executive vice president and chief science officer.
(Image courtesy of Sun World)

Sun World International LLC has appointed Jennifer Petersen as its new executive vice president and chief science officer.

In this new leadership position, Petersen will oversee all activities, staff and partnerships pertaining to breeding, variety development, genetics and related technologies, according to a news release.

“Jennifer will be instrumental in expanding Sun World’s genetics portfolio as it seeks to bring new and improved fresh fruit to consumers worldwide,” David Marguleas, Sun World’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Jennifer adds immeasurable knowledge and depth to our research endeavors and management team. This decision is transformational for our company.”

Petersen has a strong background in agricultural research, most notably genetics and plant biology, the release said. She received her Bachelor of Science in horticulture from Oregon State University and a doctorate in plant biology from the University of California, Davis.

“Oregon State University was a fantastic place to study because it's one of the places that has a publicly funded breeding program. So, I was able to learn a lot there,” Peterson said. “I did my doctorate research on genetic diversity of tropical fruit species. So, I'm really excited that this job gets me back into work with perennial crops, a group of plants that I'm really passionate about.”

Petersen recently directed a global accelerated genetics team at Bayer Crop Science. In that capacity, she was an integral part of Bayer’s global research leadership team, the release said.

Petersen said Sun World is “at a pivotal place in its growth trajectory."

“I look forward to building on that legacy while working with our talented Sun World research team,” she said in the release. “We have a good challenge ahead of us. Fruit genetics and fruit breeding are really a balance, finding that set of traits for growers and then the set of traits that are interesting to consumers on a single plant.”

Historically, Sun World has done consumer focus groups for consumer research. They invite their supermarket retail buyers from Asia, Europe, North America, South America and Australia to their facility. We also have 2,000 growers around the world that are not bashful about what they’re looking for, as well. It's a combination of supermarket feedback and on-the-ground growers and shippers internationally, Marguleas said.

“It takes two to three years to be able to start looking at fruit in the seedling stage. The challenge is to shorten the generation cycle and be more reactive to what the industry needs and what consumers are demanding,” Petersen said. “Our top priority is getting back to how we look at what the consumer is asking for in the marketplace. In my early discussions with David, we talked about this. And I think Sun World is uniquely positioned, having been an international grower.”

Public research programs have also been a foundational part of consumer research and fruit genetics for the produce industry, Marguleas said.

“We've seen public breeding programs over the years be prolific contributors to innovation, both the USDA and University of California, a number of other public institutions and government breeding programs around the world,” Marguleas said. “I think some of the public funding of those have diminished over the years. There's still a number of really important public breeding programs around the world, some of whom we collaborate with.”

Petersen said there's an opportunity in partnering public and private research programs. Sun World wants to leverage those organizations and partner with both public and private research programs.

“So, we're actively pursuing and excited about these kinds of partnerships,” Petersen said.


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