It takes a high-quality product to make the cut for the Wm. Manis Co. of Plant City, FL’s “Ultra” label. This year, the company has an abundance of large, super-sweet citrus to meet growing demand.
“We’ve had great growing weather. There were no storms so the fruit looks good and the color is outstanding,” said President Rick Sullivan. “After the freezes last December and January, we had a huge bloom. We had rain at the right times and the result is an excellent quality citrus crop.”
Manis’ “Ultra” program got off to an early start this year, and there is plenty of interior Florida, Indian River and Gulf District fruit available, including red and white grapefruit, Navel oranges, juice oranges, bags, consumer packs and gift fruit.
“Demand has been good” for early-season products, Mr. Sullivan said, and he expects that trend to hold through the second half of the season. Support from retailers also has been strong. And while Mr. Sullivan believes in the reputation of Florida citrus as a marketing tool, he also knows that quality — followed shortly by price — is the ultimate motivator for consumers.
“We’ve had great support from eastern retailers so far,” Mr. Sullivan said. Consumers clamoring for fruit grown as close as possible to home have had an impact on that, but “more than anything, after quality, price is what is driving that support.”
With promotable quantities of all citrus products this season, market conditions are favorable for retailers to stick with Florida product through the season, especially since they also save on shipping costs, Mr. Sullivan said.
Convinced that “every once in a while, something special comes along,” Manis packs the best of its best under the “Ultra” label, which also includes its Florida vegetable crop as well as Peruvian and Vidalia onions.
Atypical hard freezes caused damage to vegetable crops around the state the last two seasons, but this year, Manis’ Florida vegetable farms are already shaping up for a promising winter and spring crop, Mr. Sullivan said.
The company was founded by Bill Manis in 1953. Mr. Sullivan, formerly a high-level executive with a midwest supermarket chain and a satisfied customer of the Manis Co., came aboard 14 years ago and bought the company when Mr. Manis retired.
Manis grows and ships fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean to supermarket chains, foodservice suppliers, terminal market wholesalers, and offshore receivers, and is a leading marketer of watermelons, Athena Cantaloupes, citrus, strawberries, import specialties, southern vegetables and fruits of the Pacific Northwest, as well as product grown on its own Florida farms. Well-established connections throughout the Western Hemisphere give Manis access to steady supplies of high-quality import melons, asparagus, and other offshore items.