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The season for Florida Classic Growers (formerly Diversified Citrus Marketing) in Lake Hamilton, FL started off with a bang and has only gotten better, said Al Finch, vice president of sales and marketing.

"It's picked up pretty good right now," Mr. Finch told The Produce News in late November. “Fundraising’s kicking in, this is typically the time of the season when chainstores are starting to promote Florida citrus, and our gift fruit program is going very well, too. Even with the down economy, it’s amazing, our fundraising business just continues to grow. We’ve expanded our gift fruit program — we’re basically co-packing and fulfilling orders for three major fruit gift shippers — and our upstairs at the Lake Hamilton facility, we’ve kind of just had to convert to a call center — there are 47 people at all times to answer the phones up there. It’s busy, and it’s great — that’s a segment of the business that’s hanging in there pretty strong and growing for us. So it’s an important time of the year, especially for us.”

The success of the fundraising program has been a pleasant surprise; the growth of the gift fruit program, just started last season, even more so.

“Last year was our first launch of the gift fruit program at www.dundeecitrus.com — it went extremely well and early indications and our projections are that volume should increase significantly this year,” Mr. Finch said. “Our fundraising programs started in November and we’re looking at increasing those programs this season as well. The orders are coming in and it looks to be another fantastic holiday season for fundraising as well as for gift fruit.”

Florida Classic is also “ramping up with our regular retail partners” and will focus on promotions of five-pound bagged red grapefruit, three-pound “Sunburst” tangerines, four-pound juice oranges and four- and eight-pound Navels. “This is basically the main season people think of Florida citrus and retailers promote it, this holiday period we’re approaching — we’re anticipating a great December for sales,” Mr. Finch said.

“The key message is, we’re anticipating having another good year — the fruit is clean but it’s going to be a good year for promoting bagged citrus due to the sizes,” Mr. Finch said. “We’ve had above average temperatures this past month and we’ve had a lack of rainfall so the sizing will be smaller than normal statewide and across the board.”

Florida Classic Growers is a sales and marketing agency representing Dundee Citrus Growers Association, Lake Wales Citrus Growers Association, Winter Haven Citrus Growers Association and Lake Region Packing Association. The organization was founded in 2001, but represents some of Florida’s older and better known citrus co-operatives.