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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 14, 2017 2 years ago

Orange power

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A fresh look at an Old Florida business could be a big opportunity for a creative entrepreneur.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Kelly Abercrombie already had a lot on her plate as CEO and an owner of McClain's Old Florida Gourmet, a Sarasota-based distributor of more than 4,500 gourmet food, candy and Florida specialty products. The business works with everything from airport concessionaires and small gift shops to big-name retailers.

But when her customers kept looking for an orange blossom perfume, Abercrombie found a new passion project. The hunt for the fragrance led her to Winter Haven-based Citra Products of Florida, which used to have one in its product lineup. From that she developed a relationship with Citra owner Nan Norman, who asked McClain's to become a Citra Products' distributor.

In 2012, after almost six decades of running the company that makes utensils for enjoying fruit, 80-something Norman was ready for a change, and a way out of Citra. “She called me for lunch to her beautiful house in Winter Haven, and over her homemade Key lime pie she told me that she wanted us to have the company,” says Abercrombie. “She wanted a woman to own it and wanted a woman to run it.”

Since buying Citra Products of Florida, Abercrombie and co-owner Taylor McClain Mock (also an owner of McClain's) have seen it grow 10% to 15% each year. Abercrombie declined to provide more specific revenue numbers or terms of the sale.

“It was a very sleepy company,” says Abercrombie. “When the first press release went out that we had bought the company, the phone calls that came in were, 'Oh my gosh, I thought they were gone,' and 'We didn't know that they were around anymore.' Nan wasn't doing any marketing at all.”

The purchase made sense because Citra aligned with what McClain's was already doing. The two companies remain separate entities. Citra basically sells its products — its original citrus sipper for drinking juice right out of an orange or grapefruit, along with citrus peelers, knives and other utensils — to McClain's, which distributes them.

McClain's was already working with some of Citra's customers, such as fruit shippers. And where there wasn't crossover there now is, with McClain's helping Citra get into some new markets, thanks to things like its involvement in the Florida Attractions Association, and Citra introducing McClain's to some of its longtime clients.

Citra's operations have been moved to Sarasota. Abercrombie and McClain Mock had to get a crash course in manufacturing, something they hadn't been involved in before. A longtime Winter Haven firm had manufactured Citra's products, but that company moved to Tennessee after a fire.

That long-distance arrangement didn't make sense anymore. Abercrombie went local, and partnered with Sarasota-based Delaney Manufacturing, which specializes in plastic molds for products and working with quirky inventors. Manufacturing costs will be a little higher in Sarasota, but shipping costs will go down.

While Citra Products did introduce a novelty orange-shaped sipper cup in 2015, its new owners have focused on bringing consistency to the packaging of the company's existing products to build on the brand. “We're going to stick with what's tried and true,” says Abercrombie. “I think there are so many opportunities that we need to work on first before we explore anything else.”

They've made sure the company's trademark Citra Girl logo shows up on all the packaging, for example. “Everyone will start recognizing that girl,” says Abercrombie. “And we actually have a human Citra Girl who goes to some of our events.”

Abercrombie has lots of ideas for expanding Citra's reach. She sees opportunities for personalizing products for things such as destination weddings and special events. And she hopes to continue forging partnerships with fruit shippers and bringing Citra products into local schools.

“I'd love to double this company and for the products to be common items in airports and grocery stores,” she says. “Once people see and feel the products, they recognize the importance of them. But with all of the flashing lights that go on in today's world, it's a matter of getting people to recognize how important the old, nostalgic items are.”

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