A welcome development for growers

A welcome development for growers

| Coca-Cola company invests in Florida’s citrus-growing future |

It might sound contradictory that the manufacturer of a popular soft drink would expand into Polk County’s traditional citrus industry, but Andrew Meadows doesn’t see it that way. [emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]

He notes, for example, Minute Maid, the very popular orange juice that is produced by none other than the Coca-Cola Company. “It’s a huge brand,” Meadows states, “and it is a Coca-Cola brand.”

According to Meadows, who is the director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual, the many citrus growers across Central Florida being represented by his association are excited about Coca-Cola’s recent announcement to support the state’s largest citrus planting operation in two decades.

The company just announced it would purchase $2 billion worth of oranges produced by those new groves, in a partnership with Cutrale Citrus Juices and Peace River Citrus Products.

This investment will enable the growers to plant 25,000 acres of new orange trees, and Coca-Cola is going to procure all of the fruit produced by these trees for the next 20 years. “It’s very good news,” Meadows says. Florida Citrus Mutual is a grower trade association that provides services, including government lobbying in Tallahassee, for citrus growers, their primary members.

As Andrews points out, a 25-year study by the Florida Department of Citrus indicated the Coca-Cola investment would add more than 4,100 direct and indirect jobs to the state’s economy. “This is much needed good news,” Meadows continues, “because it’s been a pretty challenging season so far for the growers.”

Many of the region’s growers have struggled with citrus greening, a bacterial disease that causes the fruit to lose its nutrients and kills the trees. The Coca-Cola announcement, he observes, is a very welcome development during an otherwise rocky season. “It’s great they are showing that type of commitment to our industry,” Meadows elaborates. “It certainly brings a renewed sense of optimism to our growers.”

Coca-Cola purchased Minute Maid in 1960, and today the company operates 26 facilities in Florida that employ 6,100 associates. In the past five years, The Coca-Cola Company has invested more than $400 million in its operations throughout the state, most recently at its Auburndale location which produces the Simply juices brand. That plant underwent a significant expansion, adding a new production line which created 129 new jobs in a facility that now employs more than 500 workers.

In announcing the new investment, Steve Cahillane, president of Coca-Cola Americas, made the following statement: “The Coca-Cola Company is proud to be part of this investment in Florida and its citrus industry. A thriving Florida citrus industry is critical to helping us build our Simply and Minute Maid juice brands.”

Cahillane predicts that “through viable partnerships and meaningful investment with Cutrale and Peace River, we will together foster sustainable, responsible growth in Florida. This is good news for the state’s citrus industry, our business and the communities we serve.”

Andrews notes that the growers his organization represents also believe that this investment would prove to be a very significant one in coming years, and a reminder of how critical the citrus industry is to Florida’s economy. “For a company like Coca-Cola to show such a strong commitment to the industry, that should really buoy the spirits of our growers,” Meadows says.

Despite a residential construction boom over the past decade, which ate up a lot of once wide-open citrus fields in areas like Northeast Polk County and South Lake County, Meadows observes that “there’s still a lot of available land in Florida for citrus growing.”

With the slowdown in residential home construction since the national recession set in around 2008, “Now farming may be a better option for that land than it was seven years ago,” Meadows explains. “Maybe developing that land looked like a better option then — but not today.”

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story by MICHAEL W. FREEMAN [/emember_protected]