FORT PIERCE, Fla.—Florida Citrus Packers honored a pair of fruit producers who face Florida’s most challenging production era with invention, integration, and a positive outlook.
Award recipients Michel and Veronique Sallin
The packers celebrated Michel and Veronique Sallin with the organization’s highest recognition, the John T. Lesley Award, on Aug. 24, during the 62nd Annual Packinghouse Day at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida.
The John T. Lesley Award is “reserved for individuals making sustained and outstanding contributions to Florida’s fresh citrus industry.”
Michel and Veronique Sallin 40 years ago immigrated to the United States from their native France to produce the world’s premier fresh grapefruit in the Indian River District, a narrow coastal margin from Brevard County to northern Palm Beach County. Florida’s statewide fresh citrus industry is less than half of what it was in its 2000s heyday when growers contributed more than $9 billion to Florida’s economy.
Less than half of what it was at its pinnacle in 2005, the industry’s greatest challenge is citrus greening, the world’s most serious citrus disease. Indian River grapefruit, a jewel sold as a delicacy to markets as far away as southeast Asia, is the fruit most susceptible to citrus greening.
In a 2020 presentation made by Michel Sallin to UF/IFAS Department of Horticulture members, Sallin said, “There is a way to grow our grapefruit in these conditions. We have to find it.”
“There is a way to grow our grapefruit in these conditions. We have to find it,” said Michel Sallin.
IMG Citrus, Inc.
Mark Ritenour, a UF/IFAS horticulture professor and postharvest technology expert, said the Sallins are distinguished entrepreneurs, economists, and global marketers. The married couple and Co-CEOs for IMG Citrus, Inc., one of Florida’s most successful agricultural operations, are among the influential thought leaders who guide the state’s fresh citrus production industry to new ways of thinking.
“Michel and Veronique Sallin set an example of grit to continue the work they enjoy,” said Ritenour. “The Sallins lead by example with adaptive business models, crop diversity, and the persevering attitudes they espouse.”
At a recent packers’ meeting, Ritenour noted a shift away from the members’ melancholy spirits associated with citrus greening.
“An upbeat, positive outlook about our industry was present among members during our last meeting,” said Ritenour. “The spirit among members aligned with the Sallins’ beliefs that our industry will find a way to regain profitability in the industry we cherish.”
A rousing presentation by Chuck Allison, a well-known citrus producer, rolled out the Sallins’ lifetime achievements in fruit production and marketing. Michel Sallin grew up on a French apple farm, and Veronique Sallin was a city girl whose early interests were in collaborations. Michel Sallin studied finance, Veronique, marketing.
Combining their long-standing interests in finance and marketing, the Sallins met after graduating from HEC Paris, one of Europe’s top three business schools. The couple shared their interests on adventures in agriculture in South Africa, London, New York, and California, and then made roots in Vero Beach, Florida.
Increasing Success in Vertical Integration and Global Marketing
So began a grapefruit production operation that increased from fruit processing to vertical integration for production, packing, and intercontinental marketing. The enterprise, IMG Citrus, Inc. became a model for product diversification. When their Groveland citrus grove froze, the couple diversified into tree farming, property landscape management, and rose to become one of Florida’s largest tree suppliers, Cherrylake Inc. Today, IMG operates more than 11,000 acres of citrus groves, a technologically advanced packinghouse, and what many believe is the most advanced marketing strategy among all Florida’s producers. Recently, Michel and Veronique retired, handing their successful businesses to their three children, who will continue a family tradition to advance their businesses and share their successes with colleagues.
“The Sallins know how to face challenges with solutions and, through their partnership, demonstrated tremendous innovation and resiliency as they built a successful vertically integrated and diverse company,” said Peter Chaires, executive vice president for Florida Citrus Packers. “They have navigated IMG through periods of oversupply and extreme undersupply. Despite significant industry challenges, they continue to diversify and reposition for the future.”
Veronique Sallin positions Florida’s fresh fruit to the forefront of traceability
Allison highlighted Michel Sallin’s business savvy to meet setbacks with solutions and highlighted Veronique Sallin’s leadership as one of the industry’s most influential women owing to her expertise in direct marketing to European buyers. Allison credits Veronique Sallin in positioning Florida’s fresh fruit to the forefront of production traceability. The achievement meets Europe’s discerning consumer preferences.
In accepting the Lesley Award, Veronique Sallin said, “We found in Florida something quite unique—the Florida grapefruit. With my marketing background, it was easy for me to develop a marketing plan for grapefruit, a uniquely differentiated product full of nutrition and taste. How often does one get the opportunity to market a product known as best in the world?”
Encouragement at a pivotal moment in the Florida citrus industry
In Michel Sallin’s acceptance speech for the Lesley Award, he uses the moment to encourage an industry in crisis to move forward and overcome adversity.
“Our industry is going through one of its worst crises. Because Florida can produce the best grapefruit in the world, we are confident that our industry will survive and thrive,” said Michel Sallin. “Crises bring disruption and challenges, but they also create opportunities for innovation, change, and progress.”
Local citrus industry leader regales recipient
Executive director for the Indian River Citrus League, Doug Bournique, a Leslie Award recipient, said the Sallin family has and will continue to lead Florida’s industry into the future.
“At a time when many growers have gone out of business, IMG Citrus is planting new trees, growing our grapefruit in screenhouses, and identifying new markets,” said Bournique. “The Leslie Award is a tip of the hat from an industry that respects the Sallin family and their achievements.”