VERO BEACH – A century ago, there were thousands, upon thousands, of produce brands. These brands, in every type of vegetable and fruit, put an individual stamp on products, so that you knew exactly what sort of produce came from, and when. Gradually, these names disappeared, a result of the growth of chain stores, the ease of transportation and consumer demand for cheaper foodstuffs.
These national agricultural brands, often the product of a co-operative (but sometimes no longer), are highly trusted, including Sunkist, Kraft, Cabot Creamery, Blue Diamond, Sun-Maid and Ocean Spray. In fact, Kraft is less beloved now that it is a corporation. There are even newer agricultural brands, such as Florida’s Natural, which has helped to support first-rate American premium orange juice in an era of cheap Brazilian composite juice mixes.
Florida’s Natural has done an excellent job of promoting a regional appeal for orange juice, by not only stressing the geographic origins of the product, but showing us the different farmers that make it. Our Florida orange juice sector needs more product innovations to help sell orange juice, which is no longer (and quite sadly) a staple of the morning breakfast routine.
One of the brands not seen as much as it was is Seald Sweet, founded in 1909 as the Florida Citrus Grower Cooperative. To celebrate the brand’s heritage, it has produced product packaging that shows the older labels that made up its member farms. The co-op tells the why:
At the turn of the 20th Century and until Seald Sweet’s original organization was founded, family, friends and neighbors haphazardly picked and packed a grower’s crop under tarps or in crude sheds, resulting in a high percentage of rot and decay from poor handling.
In the early era of regional produce, products were packed in wooden crates, decorated by beautiful labels printed by lithographers to the highest quality. These labels are quite collectable, and are often seen in local history museums. In my personal life, my grandfather had a two local brands at his farm in Lancaster County, Virginia during the mid 20th century. He had a tomato brand (of which I have no clue what it was) and an oyster and seafood brand, Sea Hak oysters of Piney Island Seafood of Morattico, Virginia. They, and the farm and its economic ecosystem, are no longer. Some are detailed in my post on Northern Neck of Virginia brands.
That was the good side of industrialization, which allowed thousands of local brands to flourish, with handsome logos. The unfortunate part was that the regional brands began disappearing. Today, Seald Sweet and the other co-operative brands operate as uber brands, with no sub-brands. But looking at the packaging, at certain periods Seald-Sweet was the corporate brand (AKA Nabisco) with allied individual brands, such as Cameo, Bounty, Blue Key, Duchess, Kiss Me, Duke, Bugle, Justice and Mayflower. In the anniversary campaign, the company is reproducing these labels on the back of the package.
The company is no longer a co-op, instead it is an arm of the agricultural company Greenyard, which packs and processes a wide variety of fresh foods and flowers for the consumer market. Greenyard is itself a 2015 merger of three agricultural companies Greenyard Foods, Univeg and Peatinvest ; the stock has had a difficult time of late and has tumbled from around around €17 Euros to just over €3. It went on an acquisition spree, even trying to buy Dole, which was about its $4 billion size. It also owns Mykogen Polska, the mushroomer of the Ukraine; Bardsley Farms apples of the UK; and Lutece canned mushrooms of France.
This local era is returning, just as regional beers are returning. The reality? Consumers are looking for non-factory tastes, and regional differentiation. This is happening across all product categories and production, as the generation weaned on Shark Tank and The Apprentice creates new companies, identities and demands. During the era of regional local produce labels, each farm carried an identity and taste.
Agricultural producers would do well to look at this model again. There is no reason for just one brand of each fruit.