A flood of foreign imported orange juice was the deciding factor.
Southern Gardens Citrus Processing Corporation announced today that it will no longer process fruit at its facility in Hendry County, Florida. Beginning with the 2019-20 season, Southern Gardens will have its fruit processed at another facility and bring that juice back to its facility in Hendry County for storage in order to continue to supply its customers.
Southern Gardens will realign its business model and continue to ship juice and serve its customers. The company will maintain its citrus groves, nursery and research operations.
Opening in 1994, at its height Southern Gardens processed up to 20 million boxes of citrus per year. The orange juice produced was used by popular name brands and private labels. In addition to processing millions of boxes of the company’s own fruit, each year the plant processed citrus from independent growers in Southwest Florida. Last year, the plant processed only 6.5 million boxes due to decreased market demand and sales.
“The decision to close our fruit processing operation was a very, very difficult one that could not be put off any longer,” said Dan Casper, president of Southern Gardens. “We thank the men and women who worked hard to make this one of the most elite citrus processing plants in the country.”
Higher Florida fruit prices, combined with an inability to source Florida fruit after Hurricane Irma, caused major brands and other customers to source fruit from Mexico and Brazil. This further deteriorated the already competitive consumer marketplace for Florida orange juice.
Continued challenges that range from disease (first citrus canker and now citrus greening), decreased demand, and weather — along with continued foreign imports that significantly reduced demand for Florida juice in the marketplace — have taken a toll on Florida’s citrus processors.
University of Florida economist Ariel Singerman reported in a recent Citrus Industry article, “The Real Cost of HLB in Florida,” that the number of juice-processing facilities in Florida decreased from 41 in 2003–04 to 14 in 2016–17.
“Our processing plant was built to efficiently produce much more juice than we can sell due to the current market situation, something that, unfortunately, has become common throughout the Florida industry,” Casper said.
According to Casper, workers whose fruit processing positions are impacted will receive priority consideration for job openings in other areas of the overall company, and for those who do not find positions within the U.S. Sugar companies, human resources assistance and a severance package will be provided. Southern Gardens Citrus Processing is a subsidiary of U.S. Sugar.