By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
I recently came across a postcard in my collection that featured the Orlando headquarters of the Minute Maid Corporation, which made me curious about how the company started.
The back of the postcard reads: “National Headquarters of Minute Maid Corporation in Orlando, Fla. Located near the heart of Florida’s rolling citrus grove country, at the intersection of 441 and Rte. 50, this beautiful building is the center of all operations of Minute Maid, world’s largest grower and processor of citrus products — Minute Maid and Snow Crop frozen concentrates, and Hi-C canned fruit drinks.”
My search led to a 1975 Florida Citrus Hall of Fame member, John M. Fox, who had worked for the National Research Corporation, a product research company in Boston that developed, among many other inventions, a vacuum technique for dehydrating substances.
Fox moved to Florida and in 1945, he and four other businessmen (I’m still looking for them…) started a small company called Florida Foods Corporation, which produced orange juice powder using the vacuum technique to sell to the U.S. Army. Although the Army ordered 500,000 pounds of the powdered orange juice, the war ended before the product shipped, so the company turned its efforts to reducing fresh juice into concentrate, which was more palatable than the powder when mixed with water.
Florida Foods Corporation’s involvement with the Florida Department of Citrus team of scientists changed the industry. In 1946, Florida Foods Corporation was renamed Vacuum Foods Corporation. The company shipped the first frozen concentrated orange juice product in the United States and named it Minute Maid®. The name Minute Maid® was originally created by a Boston marketing firm to imply the convenience and ease of preparing orange juice anytime of the year, thus creating an entirely new retail beverage category.
Fox went door to door in his neighborhood of Hingham, Massachusetts, giving out free samples. In 1948, he launched a national radio campaign featuring Bing Crosby that kicked off a 30-year promotional relationship between Minute Maid and Crosby. In 1949, the company formally adopted the name of its highly popular orange juice product and became the Minute Maid Corporation.
First-year sales totaled $374,501, but by 1955, Minute Maid sales had reached $106.5 million. The company went public the next year and built its headquarters in Orlando. Coca-Cola bought Minute Maid in 1960, marking its first venture outside of soft drinks, and merged with Houston-based Duncan Foods in 1964, prior to moving the company headquarters to Houston in 1967.
The saga continued, as Coca-Cola Foods returned to Florida in 1981 with the rollout of the Simply Orange brand. In 1987, the company created the first-ever, calcium-fortified, 100-percent orange juice, before officially changing its name to The Minute Maid Company in 1996.
And Fox? He continued in food service as the president and chairman of the United Fruit Company from 1960 to 1970, where he developed new ideas for shipping and branding the company’s products. He returned to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1970 to accept the position of president and chief executive officer of H.P. Hood, Inc. Fox retired in 1978 and returned to Winter Park, Florida, where he passed away on Jan. 9, 2003, at the age of 90, while the first national headquarters for Minute Maid was razed to make way for a Wawa convenience store.
Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.
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