Joseph D. Marshburn (1928)
Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative
Caruso’s Blue Bird Brand
Citrus World’s Donald Duck Brand
Debt-to-Equity Cooperative Accounting
Joseph D. Marshburn was born on Nov. 3, 1928 in Miami, Florida to Margaret and Joseph Marshburn. His father worked in the food business with his brother, buying produce for Piggly Wiggly, which later became Winn Dixie. Marshburn attended Miami High School, but his schooling was interrupted when he entered the Army at age 16. It was near the end of the war with Japan and 18 months later Marshburn was released from the Army at the rank of corporal.
He went back to Miami and attended night school, receiving his diploma in 1948, before going on to attend Stetson University on the GI Bill. However, Stetson University was not the best fit, and in 1950 he moved to Lakeland to attend Florida Southern College. In Lakeland, he was hired by the Florida Department of Citrus as a field representative in the New York area. He moved to New Jersey, where he worked the New York region for two years.
During this time he met his wife, Pat, while on an Eastern Airlines flight. He was flying to Florida for a field meeting and she was a stewardess stationed in Miami, where his parents still lived. Their first date was in Miami and they married in June of 1954. Together they have four children: Jody, Mark, Linda and Kevin.
Shortly after his marriage, Marshburn was hired by Snively Groves as their sales manager of chilled products to promote a new development — chilled grapefruit sections. This eventually brought him back to Florida in 1958, when he moved his family to Winter Haven. He worked for Snively Groves for five years before being hired by Florida Citrus Canners Cooperative in 1961, as the sales manager for chilled products. As the plant was being converted to produce chilled sections, he was setting up business across the country. In 1965 he became the assistant general manager to Marvin Walker, who was the first non-board member general manager of Citrus World. Prior to that, the President and Chairman of the Board, Deeley A. Hunt, was also the General Manager. Marvin H. Walker and Deeley A. Hunt are both members of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Walker groomed Marshburn for the position of General Manager, which he became in 1968. Walker’s role was to give the industry overview to the board, while Marshburn gave the marketing and operations updates. Ten years later he was named Chief Executive Officer.
In the early 1980s, Marshburn and his staff started planning the roll out of Florida’s Natural Brand — their first foray into not from concentrate juice. The cost to competitively introduce a new brand nationally was phenomenal. To finance this venture, Marshburn convinced the board to sell off groves that he had led them to buy just seven years earlier, hoping that the increased land value would more than offset the loss of the use of fruit. He also was convinced that a packaging change would encourage the board to sell their interest in Citrus Central and concentrated juice. Aseptic packaging was being developed at the time and Marshburn wanted to incorporate it into the marketing of the new brand. This was an important technological breakthrough, because it allowed for not from concentrate product to be available all year long and the aseptic consumer packaging enabled a longer shelf life than was previously available. Under his leadership, the cooperative reinvested in the plant by building aseptic storage tanks. It worked so well, that larger tanks needed to be built to hold the necessary product volume. This was the start of a new day in the juice business, and to stay competitive other companies had to follow suit.
At that time, Tropicana was the only not from concentrate brand. Since Tropicana’s sales were primarily focused in New York, Marshburn and his staff decided to debut the product in the West and work “backwards” to New York. This plan worked marvelously, as the buzz created across the country built up the brand awareness with the buyers before it ever hit New York. The campaign hit a brief snag, when the FDA made the company change its name at the last minute from the original brand name of Fresh N’ Natural. However, Marshburn’s team, orchestrated by Walt Lincer, completed the entire changeover and never missed a beat, effectively introducing Florida’s Natural. Through Marshburn’s emphasis on brand development, when Florida’s Natural brand was finally introduced in 1987, sales grew from about $1.5 million that year to over $100 million upon his retirement in 1993.
Ever the strategist, Marshburn’s plan was to shrink the private label side of the business as Florida’s Natural Brand grew. From 1981 to 1992, the cooperatives own brands grew from 19% to 78% of its volume, gradually replacing product once packaged for other firms. In 1986, he struck a deal with the Caruso family, owners of Southern Fruit Company, which consolidated the two largest brands in the market at that time: Caruso’s Blue Bird brand and Citrus World’s Donald Duck brand. It also brought a new talent to Citrus World, Steve Caruso, who Marshburn would eventually tap to take his place, just as Marvin Walker had done for him years earlier. In November 1993, after 25 years, Marshburn retired from the company. Upon his retirement, the company was at an all-time sales high of $361 million and was handling approximately 16 million boxes of fruit. From 1993-2001, Marshburn continued to serve as Sr. Vice-President and consultant to Florida’s Natural Growers.
Among Marshburn’s major accomplishments, include the emphasis he placed on the importance of quality branding, building Florida’s Natural brand into a major force in a relatively short time-frame. In addition, under his leadership in the futures market, the company was also able to emerge sound from the 1989 freeze, which killed approximately 70% of its members’ groves. He also helped educate the investment community about debt-to-equity cooperative accounting, making financial statements more investor friendly and easier to understand.
A tireless worker, Marshburn was active in many organizations. He served on the Florida Citrus Commission and was Chairman of the Commission in 1997; he is a past President of the Citrus Associates New York Cotton Exchange; Past Chairman of the National Frozen Food Association and a member of the NFFA Hall of Fame; Past Director of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; Past Chairman of Winter Haven Hospital; Director of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute; Director of Michael Foods, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN; and General Partner of Lake Florence Partners, Ltd. Marshburn is truly a man who has given much to both the Florida citrus industry and his community.