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DNE’s Florida product winning over retailers and consumers

DNE World Fruit Sales in Fort Pierce, FL, not only got off to an early start to its Florida citrus season, it expects to stay in the game longer this year than in previous campaigns.

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DNE World Fruit Florida Citrus Sales Manager Kevin Swords.

Typically, “What we see is the transition out to California. We lose a lot of retailers to their new crop,” said Florida Citrus Sales Manager Kevin Swords. “But what we’re finding is Florida Navels have gained some confidence with retailers and a lot of them are willing to stay in the Florida Navel longer rather than move to the California crop.”

There are several reasons for that, Mr. Swords said. First, for Eastern retailers, Florida fruit is “closer to home.” Second, different packaging helps Florida product stand out. “They seem to focus on the bagged Florida Navels, so that’s encouraging,” Mr. Swords said. “Usually once California starts, boom! The retailers are gone. But we’ve put a very nice Navel out there for October. We can’t get the bright orange California does, but we’ve got them preaching to the consumer that the Florida Navel eats very well and are getting continued support there.”

Perhaps most important is the sweetness of this year’s crop. “The Brix are very high so we’re excited about very good eating quality,” Mr. Swords said. “We’ve actually had to send out a lot of samples to a lot of people to kind of prove what we’re telling them — everybody’s been very excited about that, the eating quality’s been very good across the board this year on all varieties.”

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A worker harvests citrus in a DNE Florida grove. (Photos by Chip Carter)

DNE expects a larger crop with larger fruit this season after two seasons hampered by rough weather and smaller fruit, factors that impacted all Florida growers in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

“Going into the season we’re very optimistic. We got an early start, the crop’s nice, sizing looks to be up across the board on all varieties,” Mr. Swords said. “We welcome that — the last couple of years that hasn’t been the case.”

Larger fruit will give DNE some packaging options it has not had for the past two seasons.

“There’s some opportunities with the larger sizes to maybe reintroduce some packaging that we haven’t offered the last couple of years,” Mr. Swords said. For example, “for the second half of the season, we’re going to have a lot of jumbo grapefruit. We’re going to be looking for ways to do promotions there, whether it’s in a certain package, an eight or 10 pound bag instead of the standard five, or just doing multiple theme ads like maybe 10 for 10 or something like that. We haven’t had this luxury the last couple of years so we’re excited about that.”

The Florida Red Navel, or Cara Cara is a new offering from DNE that is winning fans.

“It’s something new for us that we’ve done this year and generated some pretty good excitement, we’re just starting that variety but we have pre-committed volume on this batch,” Mr. Swords said. “It’s not a lot of volume, because we don’t have a lot of it, but on some recent trade trips there’s been some excitement on the Cara Cara and some customers mentioned they thought a three-pound bag might be a good way to go, so we have a three-pound Cara Cara bag this year.”

The company is also providing support for retailers who offer in-house juicing, a growing sector of the market.

“We know juice oranges are not heavily promotable but we do make sure most of our customers are at least putting them out on display and we’re hitting all those customers that do in-house juicing,” Mr. Swords said. “We’re all for that and trying to make sure we help those customers that are trying to do that.”