Florida Citrus Packinghouse Sold

Ernie Neff Packing

Indian River Exchange Packers (IREP) on Jan. 8 sold its Vero Beach, Florida, packinghouse to Diamond Drinks, a Pennsylvania drink manufacturing firm. The sales price was $4.5 million.

“Diamond Drinks will convert the packinghouse into a private drink mixing and bottling company,” said IREP President George Hamner. “They will also extrude and sell plastic bottles.”

IREP plans to continue packing fruit at the packinghouse until early March, “then move people and fruit to Egan Fruit Packing out in Fellsmere to finish the season,” Hamner said. “I will be involved with grower relations, export sales and other projects, although I will not be running day-to-day operations.”

Hamner, who will continue growing citrus, said Bernard Egan & Co. will pack his fruit in the future, and also plans to pack the fruit of others who used the IREP packinghouse.

Hamner explained the decisions leading to the packinghouse sale: “The short answer is we received a good offer … The longer answer is a bit more complicated. At the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, oversupply and canker were taking a real toll on growers and packinghouses both. It was at that time I figured to survive long-term we needed to consolidate with other packinghouses or find a partner. In 2005, I managed to find a partner in the Bernard Egan Company (BECO). We have operated independently of the Egan companies over the last 15 years. But as the industry has continued to contract, (Egan CEO) Greg Nelson and I had begun looking down the road and discussing a potential merger of our operations in the next year or two when volume would force the issue. The Diamond Drinks purchase simply sped up the inevitable. The best part of the deal is that between BECO and Diamond Drinks, all of our current employees will have jobs.”

Learn here about another Florida fresh fruit packing partnership announced in mid-2020.

IREP history traces back to 1946, when Hamner’s grandfather bought the family’s first packinghouse. Hamner, who worked in the paper industry his first seven years out of college, returned to the family business in 1978. He became president in 1985, and the current packinghouse was built in 1987. “The 1980s were great,” he says. “From the 1990s on, it has been a rocky and testy road.”

“Without a doubt the best decision of my life was to return home and go into our family business,” Hamner said. “I love the industry and most of all the people that make it up. It is a rare business when friends compete fiercely and remain good friends (give or take a few). As for the sale of the packinghouse, inevitable or not, it is truly bittersweet, because it has been such a part of my family’s life for so long and I hate to be the person reorganizing our business model. However, I also do not think the industry is doomed, as some do. I believe we are just regrouping, and there is still huge opportunity if you have the drive and guts to go after it.”

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Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large

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