Not everybody was born into the produce industry, but there are people who were born to be a part of it. Christina Ward, Senior Director of Global Marketing for Sunkist Growers, is one such person, walking along the path as familiar as the back of her hand. While she has only been with the California-based crew now for four years, it feels like Christina has always been in produce. It also helps that she’s a native Californian, giving her the drive and incentive to promote the grower-owned cooperative so near and dear to her heart.
And it all started with a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
“When I was in college, I won a trip to Japan that was put on by a rock band. I had a sublime experience, and I learned so many things while unearthing some passions of my own,” Christina recalls fondly. “After it all, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in marketing because it was the promotions team that gave me an adventure of a lifetime. I immediately realized that’s what I wanted to do—create memorable experiences and impact people’s lives for the better—and that has been my guiding star ever since.”
Having discovered her newfound passion for advancing brands through the art of storytelling, Christina embarked on what would be a 20-year-and-counting career in marketing when she returned Stateside. She spent time with companies such as Air Methods, Griffin Communications Group, and SK + G honing her skills.
“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by stellar leaders and role models throughout my career. I get to work with and learn from some of the best in our industry.”
Christina Ward, Senior Director of Global Marketing, Sunkist Growers
Christina built her repertoire around creating marketing programs for a variety of business sectors—which included food, lifestyle, entertainment, and aviation. After nearly two decades of developing her craft, it was then that she pointed her compass back home and rediscovered Sunkist.
“Sunkist has been a sales and marketing co-op since 1893. I was pretty familiar with the iconic brand and fell head over heels when I later learned it was a grower-owned cooperative,” Christina tells me. “As the longest-standing agricultural cooperative in the nation, Sunkist was also one of the first to brand produce and the originator of so much that speaks to realness and innovation.”
To this day, there are two principles that resonate with Christina: think differently and have fun. This roadmap to finding solutions and celebrating successes has driven Christina throughout her fresh produce career, and the mentors she’s met along the way serve as the guides steering her forward.
“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by stellar leaders and role models throughout my career. I get to work with and learn from some of the best in our industry,” she recounts. “I’ve learned so much from our executive leadership team. Throughout my journey, they’ve inspired me to cultivate my abilities by asking the right questions and being patient and present when it comes to change—this is extra important to staying innovative and evolving alongside market trends.”
As Christina grasped the reins of her fresh produce career, she relied on her faithful leaders to guide her: President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Phillips, Sunkist’s steadfast leader; Chief Operations Officer Christian Harris, who challenged Christina to think differently; and Vice President of Global Licensing and Marketing Mark Madden, who encouraged Christina to extend her proverbial wings.
Another guide Christina met along her produce journey was Cassie Howard, Sunkist’s Director of Category Management, who has been inspirational and instrumental in grounding Christina as she navigated fresh produce.
“So many of our growers are third-, fourth-, and even fifth-generation. Each one of them brings their own unique knowledge to make our company thrive, and I view mentorship similarly: personal and professional growth also comes with sharing that knowledge with others."
“Working with Cassie has given me a whole new outlook and perspective on value-added marketing,” Christina shares. “Through our partnership, we have been able to create engaging marketing strategies thanks to the data and shopper insights she delivers daily.”
As one knows while working in our industry, no two seasons are the same, especially in the citrus category. This constant change is what keeps this Senior Director of Global Marketing on her toes, which makes collaboration between departments essential to maintaining Sunkist’s innovative prowess.
“So many of our growers are third-, fourth-, and even fifth-generation. Each one of them brings their own unique knowledge to make our company thrive, and I view mentorship similarly: personal and professional growth also comes with sharing that knowledge with others,” she imparts. “The mentors I’ve met have shaped me into who I am today, and I am eternally grateful.”
It is a road well-traveled, but far from over, as Christina continues to forge her own path with the mentality of a California native and a heart now tied to fresh produce.
Here is what they have to say about Christina…
President and Chief Executive Officer, Sunkist Growers
"I met Christina almost four years ago at a Shipper and Sales Operations meeting. She had just started with Sunkist, and I was the President of one of Sunkist’s largest shipper and grower representatives. After the meeting, Christina walked up and introduced herself, and I was instantly impressed. She was eager to understand the industry, the connection between the shippers and Sunkist Sales and Marketing, and, most importantly, our growers and who Sunkist represented.
Christina views every challenge as an opportunity, approaching them with the same gusto she had four years ago, and has become highly valued and respected by everyone. To be mentioned as one of her mentors is humbling and an honor—one that I don’t take lightly. Her future is bright, and it’s going to be fun to watch her grow and achieve her objectives. We’re lucky to have her!"
Vice President of Global Licensing and Marketing, Sunkist Growers
"Christina has a great balance of knowledge, passion, fun, excitement, curiosity, and ability to succeed. She has taken flight since her arrival, continuously looking for opportunities, building our brand, supporting our sales efforts, and benefiting our growers in addition to working on self-improvement and being a better leader. When she first started at Sunkist, her instant ability to understand the world of citrus, the marketplace, our customers, consumers, and our growers told me she was going to achieve great things. I appreciate my opportunity to work with Christina."
Chief Operations Officer, Sunkist Growers
"It may be fairer to say that we mentor and guide each other. Christina is a very important part of our leadership team and brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and some soft skills that I would be the first to admit exceed mine.
When you are lucky enough to work with someone like Christina, the most important thing is to be available, offer advice and support when needed, and let her run. As she develops her leadership skills, we often talk about what can work and sometimes learn from other mistakes. Christina is great at communicating across the organization and finding solutions and results. She is a wonderful sounding board, has fantastic attention to detail, and has that tenacious personality you want to have alongside you."
Director of Category Management, Sunkist Growers
"It has been great working alongside Christina the past few years and getting to know her better. She has introduced a fresh, new take on brand alignment, which has helped lead Sunkist to best-in-class recognition. I admire Christina’s ability to jump into any situation and make connections wherever she goes. I value her partnership—the collaboration between Marketing and Category Management has never been better, which, ultimately, benefits our Sales team, our growers, and consumers."