Peak Bounty from the Sunshine State

Noble Citrus sought to create the very best tangerines grown in Florida’s subtropical climate. After 40 years of trials, cross-breeding, testing, evaluating and rebreeding, its tangerines succeeded to its satisfaction. Its Juicy Crunch is easy to peel, seedless, large, and its brix tests at 17.

Springtime brings fresh Florida flavors.

Originally printed in the March 2024 issue of Produce Business.

The changing landscapes of spring promise the lushness to follow. The longer days seem to welcome warmer breezes. And grocers’ shelves and racks stock the Florida sunshine’s spring produce.

Spring is the peak for Florida’s early fruits and vegetables.

Florida’s 47,300 farms, operating 9.7 million acres in 2022, produced $8.62 billion in cash receipts of leading agricultural commodities, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But it’s the fruits and vegetables that make Florida stand out. Snap beans, cabbage, cucumbers, grapefruit, bell peppers, squash, sweet corn, fresh tomatoes and watermelon — all ranked first in 2022. Plus, as reported in the USDA’s Economic Research Service Feb. 7, 2024, release, Florida ranked second in oranges, strawberries and tangerines, and third in cantaloupes and mushrooms.


Plant City, FL, is designated the “Winter Strawberry Capital of the Nation.” Typically, fresh Florida strawberries are available from November through April, depending on the weather. Easter Sunday is a prime holiday for promotions.

David Waters, sales manager for Always Fresh Farms, Plant City, FL, reports the berries are looking good this year — “they have great color and shape.”

He notes grocery stores often use display coffin case coolers with 34- or 36-degree F temperatures.
Always Fresh Farms also starts shipping blueberries in February and continues through April. For continued supplies, they move north up the coast to extend the season.

The strawberries grown by Wish Farms, Plant City, FL, are hand-picked and packed in the field at peak ripeness from January to April, says Nick Wishnatzki, public relations manager.

Wishnatzki is especially enthusiastic about Wish Farms’ introduction of Pink-A-Boo Pineberries. Developed by the University of Florida through traditional techniques, pineberry has a delicate, sweet, pineapple-pear-apricot taste with lower acidity. The one-layer, bright pink packaging shows off its eye-catching white and blush pink color dotted by tiny red seeds.

“We remain very optimistic on the future of berries, so we are always looking for the next big tasty variety,” Wishnatzki explains. “We are laser-focused on bringing new and exciting proprietary varieties to market in the near future.”

Wish Farms’ Pink-A-Boo Pineberries, developed by the University of Florida through traditional techniques, have a delicate, sweet, pineapple-pear-apricot taste with lower acidity. The one-layer, bright pink packaging shows off its eye-catching white and blush pink color dotted by tiny red seeds.

The pineberry season spans from November to June.

Wish Farms was early in offering organic berries, and uses the National Organic Program and Americert International for certification.

Wish Farms also ships blackberries from May to June; blueberries typically start from March, and last until June.

Noble Worldwide Citrus, Winter Haven, FL, began its blueberry shipments in mid-February. “If the weather holds, we will harvest this crop through May,” says Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing Jeff Stachelek.

Noble is also a top producer of tangerines. “Our craft-cultivated tangerines were 40 years in the making,” Stachelek adds.

Noble Citrus sought to create the very best tangerines grown in Florida’s subtropical climate. After 40 years of repeated trials, cross-breeding, testing, evaluating and rebreeding by natural, conventional, not genetically engineered methods, its tangerines succeeded to its satisfaction. Its “crown jewel,” Juicy Crunch, is easy to peel, seedless, large, and its brix tests at 17. Autumn Honey and patented New Generation Florida Tangerines add to the lineup.

Stachelek adds the Valencia oranges, ready from March through April, “look fantastic.”

Scott Deyoe, national sales manager with IMG Citrus, Vero Beach, FL, says the company’s red grapefruit, available through March, “is known for its sweet juiciness, compared to California and Texas. Lots of customers juice them, but many others take the time to cut them in wedges and enjoy them for breakfast. And, it’s a thirst quencher during the day. It’s a great pick-me-up.”

Deyoe adds IMG is also growing more white grapefruit domestically.

Florida produces the first really “new” potatoes of the year. Sometimes called “creamers,” they have not been stored and their sugar has not yet been converted to starch. They have thin skin, and a firm, waxy texture, and, because they keep their shape, are often suggested for salads.

Mack Farms, Lake Wales, FL, begins shipping white, yellow and red new potatoes in mid-February. Matt Burman, lead sales and procurement specialist, notes Mack Farms has a new microwavable bag. “It’s a small mesh pillow pack designed especially for smaller potatoes. It performs well.”

“In that market segment, sales are growing,” he adds. “Those old 10-pound bags are not used much anymore.”

Arnold Mack was one of the first to grow and offer seedless watermelons. Mack Farms now markets only red seedless melons. While a variety of sizes are grown and shipped from April to May, Burman says the 15-pound watermelons are the most popular size.

Sweet Corn:
“Roasting ears” dominate summer picnics and cook-outs, but sweet corn is far more versatile. Florida grower-shippers will indulge consumers as early as January.

Brett Bergmann, president and general manager of Hugh H. Branch, South Bay, FL, reports, “We got enough rain and have promotable volume. It’s a good opportunity to buy. If all goes well, we’ll ship mid-March to the tail end.”

That means until June and not just to the East Coast states. He emphasizes, “I ship all over the country — even California!”

Packer-shipper SM Jones & Co., Belle Glade, FL, specializes in South Florida yellow, white and bicolor sweet corn for the winter/spring market. Bert Barnes, director of sales, says their supersweet corn is hand harvested in the field, and immediately transported for hydrocooling at 36 degrees F, hand graded, then shipped in refrigerated semis to grocery stores all across the Eastern states.

Florida produces over half the fresh tomatoes in the country, and for retailers in springtime, “their only option for domestically field-grown tomatoes is Florida,” says Florida Tomato Committee Manager Michael Schadler.

Moreover, Florida’s sunshine produces in-season and vine-ripe tomatoes, and all major types are available. If a retailer desires a longer shelf life, the ripening stage can be chosen. The committee, in Maitland, FL, reports that Florida tomatoes are essentially all fresh market. Depending on weather and farm locations within Florida, harvests can begin in March or mid-April.

Tomato Thyme Corp, Wimauma, FL, grows their exclusive Red n’ Tasty until it is vine-ripe. It is hand-harvested and not picked until it is very red, according to marketing team member Cherie Richards.

The company also offers grape and cherry tomatoes in clamshells, hand-picked round tomatoes in a two-layer box, specialty green tomatoes, boxed Romas and “Handy Candy.” She notes they grow yellow tomatoes, but in lesser quantities.

Cabbage, broccoli, greens:
L&M Farms, East Palatka, FL, ships its crops along the East Coast and the Midwest. Regional manager Adam Lytch reports this year the weather has been “wetter, cooler and with less sun.” Still, he says. “The crop looks good.”

L&M Farms grows green, red, savoy and several Asian flat types of cabbages, as well as Napa types. St. Patrick’s Day, which appears mid-season, can be counted on to drive a huge demand.

The requests for broccoli from early December continue to increase. L&M Farms provides either iced or iceless, depending on the buyers’ preferences.

Numerous varieties, including collards, mustards, turnips and kale round out the greens. Lytch says people are demanding kale for juicing. “Twenty years ago, it was only used as a garnish.”

Sales for broccoli, and especially cabbage, are still increasing, he adds.” Kale led the charge for a few years, but now cabbage and broccoli are picking up the pace.”

Alderman Farms, Boynton Beach, FL, produces a full lineup of vegetables, plus tomatoes organically. In addition, Vice President Jimmy Alderman says, “Organic growing is getting bigger every day.”

However, his basil, cilantro, dill, mint and parsley are sold conventionally because the farm recently added land. He explains that for organic certification, the inputs must be separated from conventional land for three years.


L&M Farms’ Lytch suggests that growers communicate volume harvests to retailers early enough for them to promote the produce, especially because of the rising costs.

Produce manager Ashley Lee at The Fresh Market in Baltimore, MD, notes customers check where products come from.

She adds that new products, such as the new spring produce from Florida, are placed in highly visible locations and frequently rotated.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) marketing program, “Fresh From Florida,” promotes Florida’s fresh fruits and vegetables.

Marketing and Development Director Susan McKinley emphasizes “‘Fresh From Florida’ engages shoppers and drives them to look for and choose Florida produce during peak season.”

The top commodities, March to May by 2023 sales, are strawberries, sweet corn, watermelons, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, potatoes, blueberries, snap beans and cucumbers.

The “Fresh from Florida” campaign typically runs from November through June. Media advertising includes TV, radio, social media, digital display, print and more. For example, the TV spot “Sunshine Delivery,” which features real Florida farmers, airs in all major Florida markets. “There’s Sunshine in Every Bite” messages air on traditional and streaming radio.

Consumers discover recipes, farmer videos, and the “Fresh From Florida” Club through social media and digital display ads. The club has more than 820,000 social media followers and more than 65,000 members.

Culinary websites also use shoppable ads that feature Florida ingredients in recipes.

“FDACS is the only department of agriculture in the nation using Instacart to promote fruits and vegetables,” says McKinley. “In fiscal year 2022-2023, Fresh From Florida’s partnership with Instacart promoted commodities such as strawberries, leafy greens, blueberries, watermelon and more.”

Partnering with Amazon Fresh, in fiscal year 2022-2023, promoted strawberries, bell peppers, potatoes, celery, green beans, blueberries, zucchini, squash and herbs.

Consumers can receive cash back for “Fresh From Florida” when using the apps Checkout51 and Ibotta.


Nearly 100 retailers in Florida, domestic U.S., Canada, Central America and Europe partner with “Fresh From Florida.”

Promotional activities include POP, in-store displays, sampling events, circular ads, recipe cards, and social media promotions. McKinley says last year, “Fresh From Florida” expanded its retail presence with the addition of floor graphics and grocery cart ads in more than 2,000 stores. Floor graphics and grocery cart ads are being featured again in fiscal year 2023-2024.

Partnering with Publix includes branded signage with a social media campaign and samplings. The Fresh Market, with over 100 stores, promotes with livestreaming videos. In fiscal year 2023-2024, “Fresh From Florida” also established partnerships with Food Lion, Farm Boy and Hannaford.

The success of the promotions is measured by attributed sales, number of consumers reached and logo recognition.