Organic citrus juices are not easy to produce in Florida, but a partnership between a multi-generational Florida family and Native Americans has created Seminole Pride Noble Juice – a line of organic and specialty juice blends.
The Roe family’s citrus operations grow, harvest and process specialty fruits and refrigerated juices in Winter Haven, and have annual sales of $50 million.
Founder William G. Roe came from upstate New York, where he used to cut ice. He moved to Florida in the early 1900s and started learning about the citrus business by packing oranges. Later, he bought several hundred acres of land, where his sons, Frederick and Willard, planted citrus groves.
Roe’s original label, Noble, was a family coat of arms – reflecting the culture and heritage of his company. The Roes are one of the oldest families in the Florida citrus industry.
“You can cut a lot of corners with oranges and still get an OK product, but I’m not about doing a mediocre job and seeing how cheap I can sell it,” explains third-generation Morgan Roe. He is president of Blue Lake Citrus, the manufacturing arm of the Seminole Pride Noble Juice brand.
A lesson learned on specialty juice
Focusing primarily on tangerines, the Roes learned the hard way about the art of growing them. Their first effort, the Dancey variety, were very tender and, worse, susceptible to fungus. Fortunately, Sunburst tangerines – a cross among Clementine, Orlando tangelo and Osceola varieties – made a great replacement. They were hardier and just as delicious.
In 1981, the company was passed on to the two sons. Then Willard bought out Frederick, and put his three sons in charge. Both William G. Roe and son Willard Etheredge Roe are honored in the Citrus Hall of Fame.
Noble Fruit grows seven kinds of tangerines, including Sugar Belle and Sunburst; as well as two kinds of oranges, Florida blueberries, and exotic Starburst Pummelos. The Seminole Pride Noble Juice brand produces a broad range of conventional citrus juices and organic citrus-juice blends.
A few specialty blends are Honeybell Blueberry and Apple Mandarin Chai. Organic blends include Apple Vanilla Kale, Orange Mango Carrot With Ginseng, and Aloe Mint Lemonade. Noble Fruit grows the citrus and blueberries and purchases greens, ginger and pomegranates from independent growers.
“Our state has high humidity, and the ensuing fungus makes organic products hard to source,” explains Morgan Roe. “But we use Florida produce whenever possible. Organic citrus has had problems with greening disease for the last 10 years. A cure has not been found yet, so we substitute organic Mexican orange juice.”
The first Floridians
The Seminoles are the original Florida family. They made their living off the land, beginning in 1521, by herding cattle – and later as significant citrus growers for generations.
So today’s Seminole Tribe of Florida wanted to produce orange juice under its own brand. Initially, the Roe organization just packaged it, but over the decades, a long-standing relationship developed, and the Roes went from packaging to a partnership with the tribe.
Both “families” wanted to expand. So in April 2014, the deal was struck: The Seminole Tribe of Florida now owns a majority of the company, and the Roes manage it.
Harvesting these fruits requires skill – tangerines have loose skin, which tears easily, so it must be carefully clipped off the branch by hand, not picked. Also, tangerines bloom multiple times throughout the spring, with an eight- to nine-week ripening period in fall and winter, so those harvesting the fruits must know when to clip, and which ones.
Forty to 50 years ago, most juice was from concentrate. Tropicana distinguished itself by pioneering the not-from-concentrate method, which became the standard used today. This method requires that juice be pasteurized at a very high temperature, to remove the spoilage threat, and then stored for up to a year in refrigerators.
But this method allows oxidation to occur, causing flavor and color deterioration. So to add back the missing elements, “flavor packs” are added when the juice is ready to sell.
No need to add flavors to Noble specialty juice
Noble takes a different approach, processing small lots of juice, taking samples, evaluating them and freezing the product. That way, even if it’s scheduled to be sold during the off-season, the product maintains consistent in-season characteristics.
Noble’s proprietary LEP process (low-energy flash pasteurization) is as gentle and as low-intensity as possible. Thus, more natural flavor is preserved.
“Tangerines are delicate and must be treated with respect, as you can’t fix the problem you created after the fact,” explains Morgan Roe. “So we have created an integrated system that starts in the field and continues through crop selection and handling, to minimize damage and maximize quality.”
The company also manufactures its own recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles on-site.
“Both the Roe family and the Seminole Tribe of Florida really try to be as sustainable as we can, and conscious of the resources we’re using,” says Morgan Roe.
For more information, visit www.noblejuice.com.
Mikki Royce is a writer and publicist. A “foodie,” she is a member of Slow Food, a local CSA; and is learning about food and nutrition, gearing up to complete a natural-style cookbook. Royce is a graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Communications.