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Florida's ready-to-eat peaches ready to take off

Word is about to be spread throughout the Southeast that Florida-grown peaches are truly tree-ripened, super-sweet and ready-to-eat.florida-peach-on-tree

Sonia Tighe, director of membership for the Florida Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, headquartered in Maitland, FL, told The Produce News that a peach promotional program will be under way in April, and it is made possible by funding from the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation, of which she is the executive director.

“This is a 501c3 foundation,” she explained. “With the foundation, we wrote a Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant in collaboration with Fresh From Florida to promote Florida peaches.”

The program, she noted, includes marketing and promotion not only to retailers but also to consumers. 

“It will include in-store sampling, print and digital ads in the trade press, and digital and social media outreach to consumers,” said Tighe. “The goal is to make people aware of the Florida peach season, which runs from March through May, and that [these peaches] are ready-to-eat tree-ripened fruit, which makes them sweeter than other peaches.”

Florida peaches are grown primarily in central Florida, as far east as Vero Beach and south to Arcadia.

Many peach growers in this region were originally citrus growers, but a number of groves were ravaged by citrus greening over the years. Peaches are typically known to be a cooler-weather fruit, but the University of Florida developed several peach varieties that grow perfectly alongside citrus and other warmer climate fruits.

Florida Classic Growers in Dundee, FL, is a leading marketer of Florida peaches as well as other fruits. It is the exclusive marketer of Dundee Citrus Growers Association and the Florida Classic label. The company’s history dates back to 1924 when the Dundee Citrus Growers Association was formed.

“In addition to the finest selection of fresh Florida citrus, we now offer Florida blueberries and Florida tree-ripened ready-to-eat peaches as part of our product family,” said Al Finch, company president. “We currently market approximately 700 of the 1,200 acres of peaches grown in Florida, and we market them under the Florida Classic label.”

Finch is totally bullish on Florida peaches. He pointed out that peaches in many areas are promoted as being tree-ripened, but once consumers purchase peaches, and after serial days on their kitchen counters, they complain they’re still not ripe. Florida peaches are truly tree-ripened and ready to eat right off the tree in the orchard.

Florida Classic offers an eight-pound single-layer Panta pack tray of Florida peaches to its retail customers, as well as a 20-pound box for foodservice and wholesale communities.

“We have an exclusive window for Florida peaches,” explained Finch. “The season is mid-March through May. It begins when Chilean imported peaches finish and ends when California, Georgia and South Carolina are starting up.

“We are excited to have this promotional opportunity for our retail partners to build consumer awareness of these ready to eat super-sweet peaches,” he continued. “The program is possible because of the collaboration between Fresh From Florida and the FFVA, and we are very grateful.”

He added that Florida peach growers recently created a peach advisory group to develop and administer marketing programs for the future of the Florida peach industry.

Husband and wife Nicole and Ben Adams, and her parents, Donald and Michelle Padgett, own Florida Sweet brand peaches, headquartered in Arcadia. Nicole Adams said that the company was asked to be a part of the consulting team for the block grant.

“We helped to decide on direction and funds for the various areas that the grant encompasses,” she said. “We offered opinions, advice and recommendations based on our knowledge of the Florida peach market and our sales experience.”

Florida Sweet has two locations that combined are nearly 100 acres. One is in Arcadia and one is near Fort Myers and Punta Gorda.

“Crop condition this season is ideal,” said Adams. “We have had adequate cold to set a decent crop and an otherwise mild winter free from freeze damage. We are on target now to begin shipping by mid-March. “

Those at Florida Sweet concur with Finch in their expression of gratitude for the work the Fresh From Florida and FFVA committees put into writing the grant.

“We were happy to have been asked to help advise and we are more than willing to help in any way that we can,” stressed Adams. “Our hope is to build consumer awareness.”

Although Florida Sweet has been growing and marketing Florida peaches for 12 years, Adams said it is still a new crop in that many people are unfamiliar with Florida peaches. 

“We want to create awareness, introduce people to the fruit they may not have ever taken the time to try them,” she noted. “Our goal is to generate a demand that produce buyers cannot ignore. If this grant will allow us to send peaches into the homes of people who have never purchased them before, it will be a success because the quality and eating experience will certainly bring them back for more.”

In addition to peaches, Florida Sweet produces finger limes.