By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
In 1917, A.B. Michael consolidated his citrus groves in Wabasso, Florida, with the Deerfield Groves Company of Cocoa, becoming vice president and general manager. This eventually led to his involvement in the American Fruit Growers, Inc., becoming one of the original stockholders and directors, and handling all Florida operations.
Noted for his commitment to quality, he saw that “losses from careless handling cost the organization tens of thousands of dollars in Florida each year and that the only way to avoid this loss was to start at the grove with the best possible care and continue it” throughout the picking, hauling and packing process to create a high-quality product which could be branded and marketed at a premium.
Therefore, Michael instituted quality control measures and began to mark the Blue Goose products with the use of an “electric branding machine,” which was invented by Frank Ahlberg of California. In explaining how it came about, Michael stated that “Mr. E.P. Porcher of Cocoa, one of the founders of the Deerfield Groves Company, … was working on a machine with rubber stamps and indelible ink as the means of marking, in which he had met fair success.”
Ahlberg had decided that branding by heat would be the best solution and was experimenting along those lines. “Upon learning of Mr. Porcher’s experiments, Mr. Ahlberg came to Cocoa and, with the cooperation of Mr. Porcher, perfected his present Ahlberg Electric Branding Machine,” said Michael.
“This was first used commercially in Mr. Porcher’s packinghouse on fruit marketed under the Deerfield brand. Mr. Michael, realizing the value of the individual branding of fruit and believing that it would assist in the building up of a trademark which would be nationally used in advertising, was instrumental in securing control of the Ahlberg Electric Branding Machines for the American Fruit Growers, Inc., who are now using them in branding fruits and melons throughout the country. They have the exclusive rights to the use of these machines, excepting the right of Mr. Porcher, who secured the first contract for the use of the machines from the inventor.”
An article on the electric fruit marker in the 1920 issue of The Citrus Industry magazine states: “The electric fruit marker is a new device for branding fruit on the rind or peel and is intended to take the place of marking the brand on wraps or stickers which frequently become torn or rubbed off in shipment. It is the intention of the American Fruit Growers, Inc., to use this machine in marking all fruit which measures up to the required standard of excellence. The electric fruit marking machine is controlled by the American Fruit Growers, Inc., and at the present time is the only practical device known for marking fruit.”
The article goes on to explain the company’s belief in quality: “Quality fruit does not receive the recognition it should under the old system of marketing. However, in the near future with the immense acreage of young groves coming into bearing, the survival of the fittest will be in the survival of quality and flavor. The consumer is always willing to pay a better price for a good and dependable article and the consumer is becoming more and more alive to the fact that there is a vast difference in quality of fruit which cannot be ascertained from the appearance. The fancy article should and will come in a fancy price provided the quality can be guaranteed and the consumer knows what he’s getting. The marking of fruit is the only manner in which this can be guaranteed. This marking process makes it possible to enter the fruit marketing business on the same basis as any other business and gives value commensurate with the merits of the product and efforts put forth every grapefruit or orange marked in this manner is an advertisement.”
Over 100 years later, this remains true — as does Florida’s commitment to growing a quality product!
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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