Florida's Natural Growers History

650 Highway 27
Lake Wales, Florida 33853

Telephone: (863) 676-1411
Fax: (863) 676-0114

Founded: 1933 as Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative
Employees: 880
Sales: $605 million (2001 est.)
NAIC: 311411 Frozen Fruit, Juice, and Vegetable Manufacturing

Company Perspectives:

Florida's Natural Growers is a cooperative of citrus growers located in Lake Wales, Florida. First founded in 1933, our cooperative has always had a clear focus on what we do best ... producing premium quality orange juice from the tree to your glass. People often recognize Florida's Natural Growers' slogan: "We own the land, we own the trees, we own the company." This consistent message of our growers owning the land, the trees, and the company has helped to establish the coop's commitment to quality and a difference you can taste.

Key Dates:

Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative is formed.
Coop begins producing frozen concentrated orange juice.
Coop changes its name to Citrus World.
Citrus World introduces Florida's Natural not-from-concentrate juice in ready-to-pour containers.
National advertising campaign is undertaken.
Coop welcomes a new member for the first time in 20 years.
Coop changes its name to Florida's Natural Growers.
Coop purchases Sun Pac Foods, begins exporting to China.
Florida's Natural opens Grove House, a new visitor center.

Company History:

Florida's Natural Growers is the largest citrus cooperative in the state of Florida and the second largest orange juice producer in the country, behind Tropicana. Headquartered in sunny Lake Wales, Florida, the company was founded by a group of Florida citrus growers in 1933. The cooperative comprises 13 grower organizations that represent more than 1,000 farmers. The company credits its not-from-concentrate (NFC) juice for much of its $605 million in annual sales and says the juice has that "right-from-the grove, fresh-squeezed taste." Florida's Natural Growers markets its NFC juice under the brand name Florida's Natural. Varieties include Original Orange, Home-Squeezed-Style Orange, Growers Style Orange, and Orange Juice Plus Calcium with Added Vitamin C, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Ruby Red Grapefruit Plus Calcium with Added Vitamin C, Lemonade, Apple Juice, Orange-Pineapple Juice, Cranberry Apple Juice Cocktail, and Raspberry Lemonade. The company also manufactures other brands of juice including Donald Duck (its original brand), Bluebird, Adams, and Texsun. Its products are sold to the foodservice industry, retailers, and vendors. The company exports to 40 countries primarily in Europe, Japan, and the Caribbean. Florida's Natural Growers is known for its national advertising campaigns that use real employees rather than actors and show footage from orange groves in its hometown of Lake Wales, Florida.

Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative in 1933

Florida's Natural Growers began in 1933 when a group of citrus growers decided to work together to process grapefruit and grapefruit sections. They formed a cooperative in which they owned the land, the company, and shared the company's profits. They called themselves the Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative. A year after it began, the company packed 422,000 cases of grapefruit sections and juice and processed 3,000 boxes of fruit a day. By 1940, the growers decided to invest in expensive equipment so they could begin producing frozen concentrated orange juice. This decision was a good one. The company's sales soared. Juice drinkers nationwide sipped the company's Donald Duck canned orange juice on a regular basis. In 1969, the company changed its name to Citrus World.

Not-From-Concentrate Juice in 1987

Citrus World enjoyed modest but steady sales until the late 1980s. In 1987 Citrus World introduced its Florida's Natural brand in a variety of flavors. Florida's Natural was a not-from-concentrate (NFC) juice. Like fresh-squeezed juice, NFC juice was 100 percent premium juice containing no added water, sugar, or preservatives. The company believed that NFC juice tasted better than concentrated juice, which has the water extracted and then added again before it is served.

Florida's Natural hit the market at just the right time. Minute Maid was exiting the NFC juice market because it believed that concentrated juice tasted better than NFC. Procter & Gamble also was pulling out of the orange juice market. Florida's Natural took the place of these juices. People tried Florida's Natural and liked the juice and its brightly colored cartons with a ready-to-drink pour spout that was easy to open and helped keep the juice fresh.

National Advertising in 1991

Citrus World invested heavily in advertising in 1991. Its national television and magazine ads emphasized the company's local origins. Its television ads reached 93 percent of all U.S. households and were seen by 2.5 billion people. Two of its television spots, "Rush Hour" and "Truck," showed an 18-wheeler on its way to the Lake Wales citrus groves. While traveling through town, the truck passed local landmarks that highlighted the leisurely, small-town nature of Lake Wales. Viewers saw a sleeping cat in a storefront window with an American flag. The commercials sent the message that Florida's Natural "takes all the time we need to make our juice just right."

Industry experts pointed out that while Citrus World's $13 million advertising campaign was large, it paled in comparison with the $40 million Tropicana spent on media ads. They referred to Citrus World and Tropicana as a "David vs. Goliath" scenario. Still, Citrus World's advertising worked and it helped propel the company to become the number two orange producer in the country. "We have been patient," said the company's CEO Steve Caruso in the Tampa Tribune. "It has been an orderly growth."

In 1997, Citrus World welcomed a new member to its coop for the first time in 20 years--the Orange Growers Marketing Association. Orange Growers added a million boxes of citrus a year to Citrus World's production.

A Name Change in 1998

The year 1998 was a great one for Citrus World. As it celebrated its 65th anniversary, the company enjoyed record sales. At this time, Citrus World decided to change its name to Florida's Natural Growers to reflect its best-selling product, Florida's Natural. "Although Citrus World appears in much local literature and rolls off many local lips, Florida's Natural is how the company is known at national and worldwide levels," explained Production Manager Mandy Hancock. The company felt in the past it was best known for brands such as Donald Duck, but that the brand name Florida's Natural would eventually become synonymous with their company.

The company originally had marketed Florida's Natural as "Fresh 'n Natural," but the Food and Drug Administration did not want the company using the word "fresh" in the name because the juice is pasteurized. Pasteurized juice is heated to kill bacteria and molds.

Florida's Natural Growers published a cookbook to mark their anniversary and new name. Florida's Natural Favorite Recipes from Our Groves was a hardbound, 112-page volume that included recipes for appetizers, soups, main dishes, salads, breads, desserts, and drinks.

Also in 1998, the company profited from troubles in Brazil, the largest exporter of orange juice in the world. Tree diseases that affected citrus trees in Brazil hurt a significant portion of that country's crop in 1998. Brazil's citrus shortage increased the price of orange juice in the United States and spiked citrus sales in Florida.

Florida citrus growers had been affected by Brazil's citrus production in the past: first in 1962 when a freeze in the United States caused tremendous citrus losses. The United States turned to Brazil to fulfill its demands for citrus. Freezes hurt Florida a second time in the 1980s. Brazil produced so many oranges this time that Florida citrus growers had to lower their prices to compete, and Brazilian citrus growers purchased several orange juice processing plants from bankrupt citrus growers in Florida. Florida's Natural Growers helped plant 15,000 additional trees in south Florida to protect citrus growers against freezes and lessen dependence on Brazil.

Sun Pac Foods and China in 2000

In 2000, Florida's Natural purchased Sun Pac Foods' processing plant in Bartow. The facility was renamed Florida's Natural Bartow and added 175 acres to the cooperative. "Sun Pac's processing plant is ideally suited to support the expansion of our brand," explained Caruso in a company press release. Caruso added that Florida's Natural had a strong need for additional processing facilities and had been using Sun Pac's processing lines for about six years. "We have run quite a bit of fruit through their lines to meet the demands of our sales growth," he said. "We hope to grow that facility to handle our processors' and our market's needs."

Sun Pac processed primarily specialty citrus, such as tangerines and tangelos, which took more time and effort than common citrus. Industry analysts said the purchase reflected a trend toward consolidation in the citrus industry. Sun Pac processed about 5.5 million boxes of specialty citrus a year and employed about 80 people.

During the same year, the company received the "okay" to begin exporting its juice to the 1.25 billion people in China. Prior to 2001, Beijing had import restrictions that prohibited Florida from selling oranges to China. Citrus growers had high hopes for the market in China, which had welcomed McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford traveled to China with the first shipment of oranges, which were autographed by Florida's Governor Jeb Bush. "We hope to sell a lot of citrus here," Crawford said. "The United States has a tremendous food production capability. China needs food, and we think we have a good partnership."

Record Sales and a Grove House in 2001

In 2001 the company posted record sales for the tenth consecutive year. Sales jumped 10 percent from 1999 to 2000. The record $605 million in sales included an average of one million cases of juice or about three million gallons boxed and shipped per week and 23 million cases of citrus processed that year.

During the same year, Florida's Natural opened a visitor center called the Grove House. The Grove House replaced a hospitality center that the company closed 15 years earlier. Visitors touring Florida's Natural missed the center and frequently asked management why it was shut down. The company thought a new center would better please its customers.

Local architect Ed Pilkington designed the new Grove House to resemble an old Florida "cracker" house with a tin roof. The Grove House was built on a nine-acre parcel. Visitors viewed many exhibits that taught them about the citrus business. They also learned about horticulture and the way weather affected citrus crops. "We are very excited about this project as it will provide an excellent opportunity for consumers to learn more about our cooperative and the products that we grow and process," said Caruso.

A Sunny Future

Although the citrus industry would always be vulnerable to weather conditions, as of early 2002, industry experts predicted that Florida's Natural Growers would continue to grow. Even with its rapid gain in market share, however, most analysts believed that the company had little chance of overtaking mammoth Tropicana to become the number one orange juice company in the country. Said Caruso in the Tampa Tribune: "They could squash us if they wanted to, and if we had something to sling at them, we would have already done it by now." Yet, surpassing Tropicana was not necessarily key to the company's success. In 2001 Florida's Natural Growers' NFC juice was extremely popular and the company's sales were growing. The company continued to invest millions in technology at its processing plants to maximize space and minimize waste and the time it took to process citrus. The work ethic of its coop members also played a significant role in the quality of the company's juice. The Florida farmers vowed to never let their company's success go to their heads. They still kept an image of Donald Duck on one of their water towers to remind them of the cooperative's humble beginnings.

Principal Competitors: Tropicana Products, Inc.; Louis Dreyfus Citrus; PepsiCo, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Brown, Susan, "Global Juice Strategy," Florida Trend, May 1997.
  • Bygrave, William, "Citrus World Name Changed to Match Major Juice Brand," Associated Press, November 20, 1998, http://www .polkonline.com/stories/112098/bus--citrus.shtml.
  • ------, "Florida's Natural Offers Cookbook," News Chief, November 22, 1998, http://www.polkonline.com/stories/112298/lak<-->cookbook.shtml.
  • ------, "'Grove House': A Fruitful Escape for Tourists," News Chief, March 29, 2001, http://www.polkonline.com/stories/032901/bus<-->grove.shtml.
  • ------, "2.5 Billion People to See New Florida's Natural Ads," News Chief, October 10, 1999, http://polkonline.com/stories/100599/lak<-->naturalads.shtml.
  • "Citrus World Renames Cooperative," Supermarket News, December 28, 1998.
  • "Citrus World to Buy Sun Pac Foods Plant," News Chief, April 21, 2000, http://www.polkonline.com/stories/042100/bus<-->citrus-world-sun-pac.shtml.
  • "Florida's Natural Growers Choose Intermec's Rugged Computer for Wireless Solution," September 2001, http://www.mobileinfo.com/news<-->2001/Issue36/Intermec<-->Florida.htm.
  • Kurtenbach, Elaine, "Florida Fetes Start of Citrus Shipments to China," Associated Press, March 28, 2000, http://www .polkonline.com/stories/032800/sta--china-citrus.shtml.
  • Merlo, Catherine, "A Star Is Born," Rural Cooperatives, July/August 1998.
  • Power, Paul, "Pulp Friction," Tampa Tribune, December 22, 1997.
  • Schneider, Mike, "Florida Citrus Benefits from Brazil Woes," Associated Press, November 29, 1998, http://www.polkonline.com/ stories/112998/sta--juice.shtml.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 45. St. James Press, 2002.