The citrus industry in Florida is contracting. Packinghouses are consolidating, yield-per-acre costs are rising, and no end to greening disease is yet in sight. One family-owned business is bucking the downsizing trend by expanding its operations in a big way.
In April 2019, IMG Citrus purchased the 4,000-acre Emerald Grove in Fort Pierce, which yields some very special fruit. “With the purchase of that grove, IMG became the largest white grapefruit grower in Florida,” says Veronique Sallin, who co-founded the company with her husband, Michel. The newly named Happy Food Grove, after the company’s cheerful retail brand name, will bring IMG up to 9,140 acres, with grapefruit trees representing 75% of the total producing grove land.
“Typically, the demand for white grapefruit has come from Japan, where it is much appreciated,” she says. “We saw an opportunity to bring white grapefruit back home.” The company plans to nurture the mature trees, most of which are at least 25 years old, while planting more than 250 trees per acre on undeveloped land included in the sale.
Veronique and Michel Sallin brought their French farming values and savvy marketing focus when they moved here 41 years ago. The couple started modestly, buying from packinghouses and shipping to French customers. They grew by acquiring groves and contracting with packers to ship more fruit to Europe.
In 2000, IMG bought the Dole packinghouse in Vero Beach, propelling the company into a much larger market share. Gradually, the entire process has been integrated, from growing to packing to marketing to shipping, all under one banner.