Every morning, Doug Feek takes a walk and prays for his family, staff, the Florida citrus industry and for the right direction to take that day.
Feek is president of DLF International at DLF Packing in Fort Pierce, Fla.
He’s learned to stay positive through Florida’s citrus challenges of canker and greening by focusing on three aspects of the business: maintaining top quality of his tangerines, oranges and grapefruit; improving sales and marketing strategies; and fine-tuning packing-house efficiency.
“We’ve got a great a brix-acid ratio and an aroma enhances that flavor. That’s what Florida has that no one else has,” Feek said.
“Did we get kicked in the teeth a few times from greening? Sure we did. But we’ve stayed positive. We’ve slowly been able to grow market share and work with other growers to expand our fruit base and customer base. It’s a blessing from God.”
Since the late 1980s, Florida’s 150 packinghouses have dwindled to 14, from shipping 65 million to 70 million packages annually to 9 million packages, he said.
“Now, as an industry, we’re trying to regain our market share,” Feek said.
Feek has a long-view perspective.
His family had a small grove in Dade City north of Tampa, and his first formal fruit education was a high school citrus class. He’s worked in many aspects of the growing process, including extracting seeds, nursery, budding, fertilizing and spraying. He earned a four-year citrus business degree from Florida Southern College and worked in marketing for Seald Sweet International before cofounding his own company with wife Melanie in 1991.
Nine years later, DLF added domestic shipping to exporting. Since then, the company has acquired citrus groves and a packinghouse.
Feek has a young staff, averaging in their 30s, because he’s looking to the future. He likes to let his employees show him what they can do.
Flor Gonzalez, 34, DLF food safety and quality control manager, appreciates the way Feek respects younger people.
“He sees growth in the younger generation,” Gonzalez said. “He’s not afraid to change with the times, and that’s what keeps us growing.”
Gonzalez visited many packing houses as a state inspector before she started at DLF five years ago.
“And this is one of the only ones where the owner mingles with the workers and values what they say and sees that change is good,” Gonzalez said.
“This is probably the best company I’ve worked for. I see growth and I hope to retire from here.”