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• As a grower and shipper, William G. Roe and Sons, Inc., has long focused on tangerines, while also selling fresh oranges and other specialty citrus products. Since the mid-1990’s, the company’s Noble product line concentrated on 100 percent tangerine juice and also blended it with mangos, Clementines, guavas, cranberries and blood oranges. In addition, Noble markets organic citrus juices.
• With an eye on the market explosion of the California “Cutie” and Spanish Clementines, the younger Roes think Florida’s tangerine business could soon take off. To do that, Florida growers need an easy-peeling seedless tangerine variety that grows well in the humid climate.
APRIL ROE PORER, right, and her brother, Gee Roe, think tangerines could rally in Florida over the next decade. with varieties competitive with fruit from Spain and California.
Looking for home run
“We haven’t been able to justify an investment in tried-and-true peel uses, so this is an experiment with what we can do in an ecologically friendly way. It’s one of those things we can try. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t — but it’s still fun. Eventually, we’ll hit a home run with something.”
Great-grandfather William G. Roe started in business as a teenager, chopping ice in the Hudson River in upstate New York, and selling it in New York City. After nearly drowning when he fell through a hole in the ice, he decided to make a change and stay off the frozen river.
Those relationships made by selling ice to produce markets gave him a start in the fruit business, and he began marketing nectarines, peaches and plums grown in New York state. Before long, he wanted something to sell during winter months and settled on Florida citrus. By 1920, he had moved operations to Winter Haven.
“He was a master of marketing,”April says. “He developed all these different labels from the 1920’s into the 1950’s so he could sell multiple products in the same marketplace, all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The Noble label we still use is one he designed. Blue Lake, still being used, is another one of his.
“He understood marketing and became totally focused on Florida citrus. He figured out that he could price products differently under different labels, for different buyers. He built this packinghouse in 1924 alongside the railroad, and it’s still basically the same packinghouse that he built. It’s a little slice of history close to our hearts.”
William G. Roe died in 1953 and, in 1963, was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. His sons, Willard and Fred, took over the business, splitting responsibilities. Fred eventually left the company and died in 1988. Willard continued and died in 2006. He was inducted into the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame in 1992.
Willard’s sons, Bill, as chief operations officer, and Quentin, the chief executive officer, head the company’s efforts. Their brother, Morgan, returned to the company about a year ago, heading the juice division, after devoting several years to missionary work. Their sister, Ellen, plays a key role in managing the office.
April and Gee and a younger brother, Geoff, who now works in grove operations, are Bill’s children. Their cousins Eric and Adam, Quentin’s children, also work with the company. Their mother, Carol, and Bill’s wife, Lori, co-own Noble Food Service and market juice and some fresh products to food service companies and distributors.
“Mom and Lori also rally the troops,” April says, though rallying must not be too hard, with gung-ho troops like these.
“This business is our passion,” April says. “We have a romantic attachment to Florida citrus, and it’s a privilege to be part of it. We do think we’re on the cusp of a revolution, if what we think is going to happen with tangerines really does occur. It’s exciting — we come to work every day happy to be right here.”