Although COVID-19 whacked away-from-home sales at hotels, restaurants and the like in 2019-20, Florida’s Natural posted record net sales and its growers received strong returns on their fruit.
“Our results were better than expected,” said Frank Hunt III, chairman of the nation’s third largest orange juice producer.
Chief Financial Officer Chip Hendry pegged the cooperative’s historical high net sales at almost $470 million, about 12 percent higher than 2018-19 net sales of approximately $420 million.
Hendry reported that orange growers providing citrus fruit to Florida’s Natural had overall returns of $2.20 per pound solids. Growers of early oranges received average returns of $2.06 per pound. Valencia growers earned $2.31 per pound. The cooperative’s grapefruit growers earned $2 per pound solids.
“Given the high cost of producing citrus in a greening environment, we know we have to deliver a fruit return that covers grower production costs while at the same time remaining competitive,” said Florida’s Natural CEO Bob Behr.
Florida’s Natural markets lemonade and other products in addition to the orange juice and grapefruit juice produced from its members’ fruit.
Away-from-home sales through dispensers tanked 25 percent during the 2019-20 fiscal year because of COVID-19 when compared to the prior year, Chief Operations Officer Chris Groom reported. He added that away-from-home sales, often referred to as food-service sales, have improved in recent months. “We are moving in the right direction,” he said.
The away-from-home sales downturn was more than offset by strong grocery store sales. “COVID-19 helped spur increased sales of orange juice,” Hunt stated.
Hunt said Florida citrus production, which has been declining since the onset of HLB in 2005, is not likely to recover significantly over the next five to 10 years. “Growers are still abandoning trees faster than new planting is occurring,” he said.
Behr reported that Florida’s Natural had 20 positive COVID-19 cases this year in the Lake Wales offices and plant. “In all likelihood, the virus was brought in from the outside,” he said.
The cooperative’s 87th annual stakeholders’ meeting was presented virtually via video because of COVID-19 safety considerations.
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