Osceola County plant first to introduce chilled juice in fiber cartons
Osceola Fruit Distributors
George Lester Ivey was born in the Shingle Creek area of Osceola County, Florida, in 1897. He married Hilda Rocker in 1922, and they soon planted citrus trees and acquired several groves. In 1928 they established Osceola Fruit Distributors and a packing house was built on the northwest corner of Vine and Main Streets in Kissimmee. Their brands were Kissimmee River and Kissimmee Jewel.
With the addition of a canning plant in 1949, they produced single-strength juice as well as blended citrus juices under the Kissimmee River label. Their only child, Jerry, was instrumental in the company expanding to include a juice concentrate plant. A feed mill was also added to process the juice by-products into cow feed. Jerry encouraged his parents to produce a new product in 1955 – chilled juice in fiber cartons. Marketed under the King Sun and Kiss-Me-Sweet brands, the chilled juice was distributed nationwide and in Canada, making the Iveys the first and largest processors in the state of the product.
In 1949, at the height of the season, 325 workers were employed. The plant had a capacity of 4,000 cases of canned citrus a day totaling about 100,000 cans with the operation entirely automatic from the time the citrus entered the building until the can had been sealed, sterilized and labeled.
Three major fires between 1953 and 1964 made it necessary to rebuild after each fire. Osceola Fruit Distributors was the largest employer in Osceola County for more than 40 years. Following his mother’s death in 1975, Jerry dissolved the company, closed the plant and sold the property. Many locals still recall the smell of citrus being processed by the plant as they drove through Kissimmee.
Written by Anza Bast
Sources: “The Osceola County Centennial Book 1987”; “Kissimmee Valley Gazette” June 24, 1949