VERO BEACH, Fla. — Increasing talk of promoting regionally grown produce doesn’t seem to be as big in citrus as it is in other fruits and vegetables.

After all, only a limited number of U.S. growing regions can grow commercial oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.

Regionally grown concept draws mixed interest

Doug Ohlemeier

Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., Vero Beach, Fla., studies some grapefruit.
Miller says weather during the growing season so far has been too warm and that the Indian River growing region has received limited rainfall.

While they remain supportive of such efforts, Florida grower-shippers said they’re not hearing as much about the growing topic.

The throwing around of phrases such as “regionally grown” can cause some problems for growers of items that are primarily exported.

If locally grown was the concept, the export grapefruit business — which in some years exceeds Florida’s U.S. domestic sales — might be adversely affected.

“It’s a noble concept, but you have to have a dose of reality injected into it,” said Dan Richey, chief executive officer of Riverfront Groves LLC.

“Not everything is grown everywhere. While we are an advocate of it, we hope consumers and people in Florida recognize that while that’s important and certainly something to understand, you have to recognize there’s another support the local economy of the exporter that needs to export fruit. You have to balance those things when you look at it.”

Matt Kastensmidt, national sales manager for IMG Citrus Inc., said he isn’t hearing a lot of demand for regionally grown produce from his retail customers.

“It is a big paradigm shift,” Kastensmidt said. “I’m thinking more about it and am hearing more on it than in the past, but there’s not a huge push like for food safety and sustainability.”

On sustainability, Kastensmidt said the initiative involves recycling, limiting energy and chemical use.

In short, Kastensmidt said sustainability involves responsible agriculture and better caring for the land.

While he has seen the push for regionally grown in other produce such as vegetables and fruits, Richard Miller, domestic sales manager of Premier Citrus Packers Inc., said he hasn’t seen much of a push for Florida citrus to fit in the regionally grown mold.

“You see a lot more of it in the Midwest and Northeast,” Miller said. “Canadians have a homegrown deal then they get a freeze.

It’s much more in their hearts that we’re going to support local deals. It’s more than what we see.”

Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing for Diversified Citrus Marketing, the Lake Hamilton-based sales agency that markets for Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Dundee, said people think of fresher product when they hear local.

“There seems to be more emphasis placed on locally grown commodities for retailers to offer their consumers,” he said. “There is big demand for supporting local agriculture in your state. People deem it fresher and like the idea of supporting their local economies, especially during tough times.”

Finch said Diversified is seeing bigger calls for locally grown product over organically grown produce.

Marketing products as regionally grown isn’t anything new for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc.

The grower-shipper, which began operations in Florida and expanded to the West Coast and to other parts of the country, has been building on regional production connections for years, said Jason Bedsole, sales manager of eastern vegetables and citrus.

“The industry is leaning toward and the consumer trend has been increasing on regionally correct and locally grown, so there’s a big emphasis on that currently,” he said. “We are very familiar with regionally correct and locally grown. Based on the way the industry is really pushing it and the consumer trend is leaning, we are well-positioned for that on all of our nationwide items.”