FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Florida growers heard how the industry needs to put more muscle into promoting the state’s signature fresh citrus.
At the yearly Florida Citrus Show, Richard Kinney, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Packers Inc., Lakeland, said growers and packers possess strong brand equity in fresh Florida citrus.
“We need to redefine fresh and have to do a much better job in defining our franchise,” he told attendees. “We have a lot of equity in our product, so let’s not be bashful about it. It has been homogenized for lack of a better term. There’s a lot of competition with a lot of folks and fresh sells well. We need to define that term.”
Kinney noted how when he first started in the industry, during the 1970s, the state usually packed 75 million cartons of fresh compared to the 32 million to 35 million cartons it packs today.
Though the fresh industry has “bottomed out,” Kinney said he thinks prospects remain strong for improvement. He discussed the need to develop new varieties, work on improving overseas market access and refocus domestic marketing.
Peter Chaires, Florida Citrus Packers’ director of strategic management and business development, discussed how recent passage of food safety legislation could affect citrus growers.
“The things you do in the groves and in the packinghouses do result in safe food,” he said. “This state is very advanced in food safety practices. Everyone has read a lot about leafy greens. Will the FDA treat citrus, tomatoes and leafy greens the same way? It’s unlikely. There’s always concerns about the FDA showing up in your groves or doorsteps. The new legislation has the FDA investigating known incidents.”
J. Brantley Schirard Sr. of Schirard Citrus Inc., and chairman of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach, noted the industry’s challenges.
“We are constantly in freezes and are constantly in diseases,” he said. “My theme is let’s stay as positive as we can and spend what it takes to control and conquer these diseases.”