BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. — The Florida Citrus Commission is mulling a proposal that would increase the promotions budget of fresh oranges nearly tenfold.

The question remains how to fund the $1 million program that was roughly outlined at the commission’s monthly meeting June 13.

Florida may beef up fresh orange promotions“I see a definite benefit if we can raise awareness of fresh and promote it more,” said Ellis Hunt Jr., president of Hunt Brothers Inc., Lake Wales, which shipped about 1.1 million boxes of fresh citrus during the 2011-12 season.

The idea of increasing fresh orange promotions was raised at a May 16 commission meeting by Ben Hill Griffin III, chairman of Ben Hill Griffin Inc., Frostproof.

“I think everybody’s in agreement with him, especially those with fresh fruit packinghouses,” said Hunt, who also is a citrus commissioner.

The Bartow-based Florida Department of Citrus already tries to integrate fresh orange promotions into its overall marketing and public relations programs, said Leigh Killeen, deputy executive director of domestic marketing.

The proposed fresh program that she outlined would complement the marketing message surrounding Florida orange juice and would play up freshness, juiciness and healthfulness.

“They’re juicy. They’re very healthy, and they are a great alternative and healthy alternative for lunches and snacks,” Killeen said.

The proposed program would be limited, targeting Southeastern markets served by Wal-Mart and Publix Super Markets Inc. It also would concentrate on January through March.

Marketing tie-ins could include bagged salads, plastic bags and containers, and even children’s sports, she said.

“It’s worked well with orange juice,” Killeen said. “We complement our advertising with branded partners. We spread our message across the store and talk to them before they shop, during the shopping and after they shop.”

Growers of fresh oranges currently contribute 5 cents per box to fund promotions.

The Department of Citrus’ fresh orange promotions budget for the fiscal year, which ends June 31, is about $177,000. But it drops to $86,000, according to the draft 2012-13 budget.

Even if commissioners vote to raise the assessment to the maximum cap of 7 cents per box, it would only generate another $100,000, said Debra Funkhouser, the department’s chief financial officer.

To fully fund a $1 million program, Funkhouser said a more realistic assessment is between 17 and 21 cents per box.

In order to raise the assessment above the cap, the commission — the department’s governing body — would have to seek legislative approval.

But Hunt said he was optimistic because the program would be funded entirely by the industry.

“The Legislature has always been receptive, if it’s coming from the growers,” he said.

Commissioners asked staff to study possible funding methods and develop a more complete program outline to present at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 12.