After suffering issues with some of the citrus sold last year, the Pocahontas County High School FFA club has worked hard to ensure they are providing a higher quality product to customers this year.
FFA advisor Erwin Berry has worked with the students to help them understand how to handle dissatisfied customers and ways to fix issues when they arise.
“Some of our fruit was dried out on the inside and customers got really upset about that,” Arianya Cagle said. “We’re worried this year that they won’t want to buy because the fruit was bad.”
All the fruit came from Florida last year, and Berry explained that the businesses they worked with were very supportive and tried to replace the fruit that was bad.
“They went above and beyond,” he said. “They brought seventy boxes in a tractor trailer. The fruit they replaced it with was amazing.”
The main issues were with tangelos which were dry in the center, and navel oranges, which went bad quicker than they should have.
“What happened was, when we got them, they were fine, and there was one or two bad navel oranges in most boxes and then by the end of the week, a third of a box was spoiled,” Berry said. “I don’t know if it was weather, if it was old fruit, I don’t really know. The problem was a lot of people told us and we either replaced their fruit or refunded their money. Some people didn’t complain because they don’t want to hurt us, but it hurts us in subsequent years.”
This year, the club has decided that it will not offer tangelos and will order navel oranges from California, as well as adding California mandarins, know as Cuties.
“This year, we have a really good crop,” Berry said. “I’ve been in contact with growers and packers, and they all say it’s a good crop.”
While the students don’t grow the citrus, they are responsible for the products they sell, therefore, they have researched issues that arise in citrus groves, including diseases and weather.
“The greening disease is a big problem in Florida,” Bryson Cassell said.
“The trees are dying,” Berry added. “Usually you have a disease or a pest, you figure it out and you solve it. This has been going on for about ten years. They can’t solve it. They’re losing a lot. They’re talking about there probably will not be navel oranges coming out of Florida in five years.”
Berry also addressed concerns about the recent hurricanes in Florida by saying it’s a non-issue.
“It happened mostly on the Gulf Coast, and all of our fruit comes from an area called Indian River which is on the east coast, near Vero Beach,” he said.
Last year’s issue with bad fruit has been a learning experience for both Berry and the students, who are discouraged but hopeful that customers will give them a second chance.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints,” Berry said. “I’m contacting some people myself. We want them to give us a chance. Like I said, it’s hurting us. I want to teach kids about the term ‘the cost of doing business.’ I want to teach some of the concepts of public relations and the concept that the customer is always right.
“I want people to stay with us,” he continued. “I want them to give us a chance to make it right and the kids do, too. It’s discouraging to them when they get a couple people in a row that say ‘no.’ We stand behind everything that we move.”
The club isn’t giving up because along with being educational, the citrus sales are the biggest fundraiser for FFA, raising nearly $4,000 a year.
“We sell a lot,” Berry said. “We fill up the shop. Our sales have increased by about twenty-five percent over the last five years. The greatest thing about citrus is that it’s a fresher product than anything you can buy in any store and unlike most fundraisers, it’s a good value compared to what you have to pay for it in that volume somewhere else.”
The citrus sale will end November 16. The students are all prepared to sell and answer any questions that arise.
“What we really strive to do is educate our kids about what we’re selling so that they’re better sales people,” Berry said. “The other thing we do – we cut up fruit and we all eat it and then after that, if anybody wants to, I blindfold them and we have eleven different varieties and they have to guess what it is. When they’re focusing on something like that, they become more knowledgeable about what they’re selling. They become better sales people – and it’s fun, too.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org