Having grown up in the small north Florida town of Macclenny, a farming community, Allen Morris was introduced to agriculture at an early age. His father died in a tractor accident when Morris was seven, but that didn’t deter him from wanting to earn a living in agriculture. In fact, at 14, he obtained a restricted driver’s license in order to perform farming operations.
As a Florida FFA Association member, Morris’ first farming venture included growing 10 acres of corn as feed for his cow/calf operation. He recalls making $50 profit per animal. “The money I made helped defray my college expenses,” says Morris.
After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in food and resource economics from the University of Florida, Morris went to work as a corporate economist for A. Duda and Sons. Responsibilities included strategic planning, financial analysis, price forecasting and more.
“At Duda, I gained a better understanding of working with growers and the importance of treating them fairly and as partners,” says Morris.
Four years later, he became manager of operations planning for The Wine Spectrum, a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company. He performed procurement planning, managed capital expenditures and developed knowledge and appreciation of fine wine.
When Seagram’s bought The Wine Spectrum a few years later, Morris moved to Tropicana Products, Inc., where he worked as director of procurement and operations planning for 10 years. One of his most memorable accomplishments in this position came after the 1989 freeze.
“The citrus crop was reduced to 110 million boxes. We were going to have to pull Pure Premium, our not-from-concentrate (NFC) orange juice, from the shelf in a number of markets because of inadequate supply and replace it with an orange juice made from concentrate,” Morris recalls. “However, Tropicana’s solution was to purchase NFC from bulk processors who had their own groves or captive fruit.” This was before most processors made NFC, so Morris was put in charge of a procurement team that modified five citrus processing facilities so they would have the capability to process and chill NFC.
“We obtained 20 million gallons of NFC (15 million from Florida and 5 million from California), and not one thing went wrong,” says Morris. “The product was made to Tropicana’s specifications on schedule and under budget, and it helped keep Pure Premium on the shelves.”
Morris’ next business venture began in 1994, when he joined his wife Kate in Morris Agribusiness Consulting, Inc., which she started after they were married in 1991. Some of their clients included businesses Morris previously worked for, Sun Trust, Alcoma Packing Co., U.S. Sugar Corporation, The Coca-Cola Company, large citrus growers and others. In this position, Morris also published a monthly citrus economics newsletter with readers in nine countries.
Two years later, he joined Cutrale Citrus Juices USA as director of procurement, sales and industry relations. He built and managed an orange juice sales program using pricing mechanisms that shared the risk between buyer and seller. As a result, processing and storage capacity was sold out. “Due to good relationships with growers, my fruit buyers and I were also able to put a lot of fruit on the table quickly,” says Morris.
In 2000, Morris expanded his resume and began working in agricultural real estate for Capital Agricultural Property Services, Inc. As vice president of real estate for the southeast U.S. region, he and his sales associates sold over $70 million in citrus groves from 2004 to 2007 due to investors exiting citrus because of canker and greening.
In 2007, Morris came full-circle in his career when he found himself back in the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida, where he graduated 30 years before. He was asked to come on board at the Citrus Research and Education Center to provide a business and economic perspective on citrus greening. As associate Extension scientist and economist, his focuses included the marketing of citrus products, the economics of managing citrus groves as well as the economic evaluation of new agricultural technologies, citrus markets and horticultural management strategies. His accomplishments included helping to secure $1.4 million in research grants, publishing 22 peer-reviewed articles, making 24 presentations in six countries and organizing two international citrus economics conferences.
Always ready for a new challenge, Morris was recruited in 2012 to be vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Lake Citrus Products, which produces and markets the Noble brand of specialty citrus juices in addition to bulk citrus juices. Blue Lake is the citrus processing subsidiary of WG Roe, a Florida fresh citrus packer.
“In addition to marketing citrus juices and services such as drumming and debittering, I buy the juices we need that we don’t make, like organic apple juice from Washington, organic lemon juice from California and blood orange juice from Italy,” says Morris. “Most of what was bought was through brokers, but I’ve brought relationships to the table where we don’t need to use brokers as much anymore.” The result has been improved profitability.
“I feel like I make a difference here, and they tell me I do a good job,” says Morris.
With more than three decades of citrus experience, Morris considers his top accomplishment to be “wearing a lot of hats in the industry.” These include but are not limited to: working in technical and financial fields, fruit/juice procurement, strategic planning, risk management, sales management, industry relations, real estate and academics. He believes the key to his success has been “learning what I needed to learn to do each job effectively.”
Rick Dicks, president of L. Dicks Inc., an intermediate handler and citrus grower, has known Morris throughout his career and is a friend. “If Allen is interested in something, he goes above and beyond to learn about it and doesn’t procrastinate. His philosophy is to do it now and do it right,” says Dicks. “He’s also very analytical and knows how to size things up. He’s not afraid to stand up for the industry and always has its best interests at heart.”
Not one to attend many formal meetings, Dicks did feel compelled years ago to address the Florida Citrus Commission on why he thought Morris should be the executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “I think with his background in economics, management and marketing, he would have been perfect for the job.”
Dicks cites some of Morris’ additional accomplishments: “He was one of the two consultants responsible for the project that led to the deal for Cutrale to buy Coca-Cola’s processing facilities in Florida. He also has been invited all over the world to give citrus presentations.”
Throughout his career, Morris has been selected four times to participate in an annual executive education program at the Harvard Business School. He submitted and presented case studies at Harvard’s Agribusiness Seminar on the following topics:
• Development of a new fruit purchasing agreement at Tropicana
• Strategic use of FCOJ futures at Alcoma
• Florida Department of Citrus
• Florida orange growers surviving globalization
Morris also was chosen to participate in an executive education program in finance at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management in 1982.
In addition, Morris authored “What Happened to the Florida Orange Industry?” — a case study he was invited to present at a food policy meeting at Harvard.
THOUGHTS ON HLB AND MARKETING
“We have the technology to live with greening,” says Morris. “You have to manage greening from the day the grove is planted. This includes being part of a Citrus Health Management Area, planting at much higher tree densities, aggressively controlling psyllds and removing infected trees as soon as they are found. In groves where this is done, greening infection rates of 3 percent or less are being achieved.”
He thinks that in the long term, “We either need to make the psyllid unable to reproduce or not transmit the disease. Or we need to genetically engineer trees highly resistant or immune to greening, but I don’t know if the marketplace will accept it.”
Morris says many growers are not replanting because there is not enough of a market for orange juice. “If you don’t have a long-term home for your fruit, you are taking a big risk if you replant,” he says. “With the market dropping 4 to 5 percent per year, the brands don’t have the incentive to provide long-term contracts for growers to replant the way they did following the freezes in the 1980s. Since the 1999–2000 citrus season, we’ve lost half the OJ market.”
He believes more effective marketing is the answer, but that there is no money to support it. “If you want to sell, you have to tell what is different about your product and why that difference has value,” says Morris. “For example, orange juice has more nutrients per calorie than other juices.”
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