Wednesday, February 10, 2016

30 Years of Peak Flavor: The Story of Florida Fruit Shippers

All successful companies have an origin story. Whether the business started out in a garage, over beers, or as a great idea in the shower one day, it all took off from somewhere. Where did Florida Fruit Shippers begin?

The story starts in Gulfport, Florida, back in 1983. At the time, our owner Rick DelGreco’s wife was working at a produce market. She enjoyed it so much that the husband and wife began talking about opening their own market. That dream came true when the Vegetable Kingdom market opened its doors in 1983.

Rick served as chief buyer--and from the beginning, he was committed to selling properly ripened, high quality produce at its peak of flavor. In fact, the Vegetable Kingdom’s motto was “Tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.”

Now, this motto may not sound too unusual in today’s world of farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture subscriptions, and constant reminders to eat fresh! But back in 1983, things were pretty different. (Remember when “salad” meant a bowl full of iceberg lettuce? Compare to today’s world of arugula, spring greens, butter lettuce, and kale.) So Rick’s attention to freshness and quality really put him ahead of the curve.

The market was a success, but Rick soon recognized a bigger opportunity: sharing Florida’s delicious and high-quality citrus fruit with others. Vegetable Kingdom began working with local citrus growers and packinghouses to pack and ship gift fruit. Then, in 1986, the fledgling company began shipping oranges and grapefruit across the country and around the world, through CompuServe’s Electronic Mall.

This was the first online marketplace in the nation, so Rick was ahead of the curve once again! And things really took off. You can learn more about Florida Fruit Shippers’ early entry to the world of Internet commerce on our blog. (Bonus: Video of Bryant Gumbel looking unsure about this whole “online shopping” thing.)

Today, FFS does still sell its products at some physical outlets, but about three-quarters of our business is conducted online or by mail order. But while computers and the net have changed dramatically since 1985 (wouldn’t you love to go back in time and show them what smartphones would look like?), Rick says that customer preferences actually aren’t that different from what they were back then.

In fact, FFS’s most popular item is and has been the always-lovable sweet, juicy, and seedless navel orange. Tangy, refreshing ruby red grapefruit is and has been another very strong seller. Our unique and extra-flavorful Honeybells have been a favorite for years, too. And FFS has been shipping out boxes and boxes of our classic Sunshine Deluxe” package (which includes oranges, grapefruit, and a few other treats) for decades.

Of course, FFS also works with growers to offer new varieties we think our customers will enjoy. For instance, we’ve recently begin to sell the small but deeply sweet and flavorful Page orange, or, this year, the Seville, a unique sour orange used in marinades, marmalades and mixed drinks.

Back in the old days at Vegetable Kingdom, Rick got up at 4 am—something he might be glad not to have to do anymore. And while it used to just be Rick and his wife, FFS now routes its orders through a phone room and mailing center with many employees. However, we think you’ll find that our dedication to quality fruit and top-notch customer service remain the same as ever. We’ve enjoyed serving Florida and the nation for over 30 years.

Want to be notified when we post more articles? Sign up for our mailing list!

© 1996-2013 Vegetable Kingdom Inc., PO Box 530456, St. Petersburg, FL 33747 All rights reserved.
Florida Fruit Shippers® is a registered trademark of Vegetable Kingdom Inc.