By Doug Ohlemeier

Eastern Editor for The Packer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Focusing on its fresh operations, central Florida tangerine grower-shipper William G. Roe & Sons Inc. has spun off its processed division.

Roe sold its Blue Lake Citrus Products juice subsidiary to a Winter Haven investment firm called Crossroads. Financial details of the deal, which closed Sept. 2, were not disclosed.

Quentin Roe, Roe’s co-owner and vice president of fresh operations, said the sale won’t bring any major changes for the third-generation family-owned company’s fresh division.

“This will allow us to concentrate on our fresh business,” Roe said. “It was a good time for Blue Lake to have a chance to go on its own. There was an opportunity in the marketplace that made sense for all parties. It gives Roe & Sons a chance to refocus on its core fresh tangerine business.”

William G. Roe & Sons had marketed fresh and processed citrus under the Noble label, doing business as Noble World Wide. Under the deal, Roe will continue to ship fresh product under the label, and Blue Lake will market some of its juice products under the brand, Roe said.

Separating the two companies will allow each to add more capital investments, said Wade Groetsch, Blue Lake’s president.

“Strategically, the two companies can be stronger separately than they can be together,” he said. “We were growing to the point that our sales have grown so much, the capital needs we have were almost a burden for the fresh operations. We’re both out there and are continuing to grow. This will give us more flexibility in the future.”

Roe, a grower, packer and shipper of fresh oranges, tangerines and other fresh specialty citrus products from Polk County, had been operating on the same site as Blue Lake, founded in 1995, which moved its staff out of Roe’s operations. Since 2001, however, there had been a clear division of personnel in the sales, administrative and operations, Roe said. The two businesses had operated separately under Roe’s ownership, he said.

Blue Lake had up to a 50-person staff while William G. Roe & Sons employs up to 350 people during the citrus season, Roe said.

Personnel moves:

The divesting of its juice business is just one major change affecting the longtime fresh citrus shipper.

William G. Roe & Sons, founded in 1927, in May lost one of its three partners when Morgan Roe, former chief executive officer, left for a five-year commitment to Christian missionary work. Morgan Roe spent the last three years fundraising and in training for missionary work in Tijuana, Mexico, with Presbyterian Missions of the World, Quentin Roe said.

The move leaves Quentin Roe and his other brother, Bill Roe, the company’s co-owner and vice president, running the business.

Florida’s specialty fruit volume should remain flat to slightly up this year while oranges should be flat to lower than last season, Quentin Roe said. Though Florida’s volumes won’t approach 2003-04 citrus levels, a more typical production that preceded the crop-reducing 2005 and 2006 hurricanes, Roe said he expects citrus quality to be higher than the last two seasons. Sizing, he said, is looking good.

William G. Roe & Sons expected to start packing its fallglo tangerines, which run through mid-October, in mid-September. Bridging the gap between the fallglos and the sunbursts, the robinson tangerine variety is expected to come into volume Oct. 13.

Sunbursts should start packing Oct. 25 and end by Jan. 1.

Honey tangerines, Roe’s biggest shipping variety, should start in early January and run through the end of April.

The company also grows and packs red navels, temples, valencias and orlando tangelos.

Tangerines constitute 70% to 80% of the 1.2 million four-fifth bushel cartons of fruit Roe normally ships a year. This season, however, Roe plans to ship nearly 1 million cartons.

Elder Roe

Willard E. Roe, Quentin Roe’s father, 87, is no longer active in the company and is in bad health, Quentin Roe said. Company founder William G. Roe, Quentin Roe’s grandfather, died in 1953.

Marking the fourth generation of family workers, Bill Roe’s oldest son, William G. Roe III, who goes by the nickname “Gee,” 25, manages Roe’s grove care operations and special projects.

The family has long been active in the Winter Haven community, a city known for its many lakes and canals. A city park on the east shore of Lake Shipp is called William G. Roe Park.

The company emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in 1997.