A. Duda & Sons, Inc.
A. Duda & Sons, Inc.
Sales: $464 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 111210 Vegetable and Melon Farming; 111219 Other Vegetable (Except Potato) and Melon Farming; 111310 Orange Groves; 111320 Citrus (Except Orange) Groves; 111421 Nursery and Tree Production; 111930 Sugarcane Farming; 112111 Beef Cattle Ranching and Farming; 236220 Commercial and Institutional Building Construction; 237210 Land Subdivision; 31131 Sugar Manufacturing; 311311 Sugarcane Mills; 424480 Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Merchant Wholesalers
A. Duda & Sons, Inc., is a diversified producer of vegetables, citrus, cattle, sugarcane, and other crops and is perhaps best known as one of the top growers of celery in the United States. The company’s produce is marketed under the Dandy brand. Thanks to its extensive land holdings in Florida, and in California and Texas as well, Duda has also become a leading developer of commercial and residential properties. The Viera Company subsidiary oversees the development and management of Viera, a planned community in Brevard County, Florida, which in 2007 boasted over 16,000 residents. Founded in the 1920s, A. Duda & Sons has been family-owned and operated for generations.
Company founder Andrew Duda immigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary in 1909, part of a group of people seeking to practice their Lutheran beliefs without persecution. He initially settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked and saved money to invest with others in developing Slavia, a Lutheran farming community in central Florida. Duda was eventually able to amass 40 acres, and in 1925 he and his family moved to Slavia to clear land, farm, and help develop the community.
The farming business that would later become known as A. Duda & Sons can trace its beginning to 1926 when the family’s first cash crop came in: celery. The early years were challenging, as Duda worked the land by hand with plow and mule. Moreover, celery was notoriously difficult to grow, needing lots of water, a long growing season, and, typically, cool climates. The family’s land, however, wet and cool in the spring and fall, eventually showed itself to be suited to the crop.
Andrew Duda’s sons, John, Andrew, and Ferdinand (later collectively known as the “three seniors”) began at a young age helping their father to farm, and they would prove vital to the success and expansion of the enterprise. While donating generously to the Lutheran church and its projects in central Florida, the Dudas also began steadily adding more acreage to their business holdings, extending further outside of Slavia (later called Oviedo), and by the 1940s they were running a farming operation that encompassed several thousand acres.
Wartime production demands prompted the company to fine-tune its production and shipping systems. Also during this time, acreage the family acquired on Florida’s East Coast provided an opportunity for the Dudas to diversify into the cattleraising business. They named their East Coast spread Cocoa Ranch, and several members of the expanding Duda family made their homes there.
The family business was incorporated in 1953 as A. Duda and Sons Inc. Duda extended its influence clear across the world in the early 1960s, when it invested in Australian cattle ranches. It sold the last of these interests in 1998, using the proceeds to expand its U.S. beef business, adding a venture in Texas to its Florida ranches for the first time. This gave Duda more than 10,000 head of cattle in the United States, but this was half its 1970s peak. In 1973, Duda began growing sod for sale to landscapers, nurseries, and property developers.
In 1979, one of the company’s Florida growers, Gene Jackson, helped the company set up an operation in California. The move was designed to allow Duda to grow celery and other vegetables year-round, an increasing requirement for supplying large grocery chains. Duda started an onion farm in Texas a couple of years later. The company also grew celery there. Operations were eventually expanded to include Arizona and Mexico.
A series of freezes in the 1980s prompted Duda to shift much of its citrus production from central to southwest Florida. New drainage techniques allowed Duda and other growers to make use of the relatively wet land there. There were other challenges to growing oranges besides the occasional frost; quarantines for citrus canker, for example, required Duda and other growers to destroy thousands of trees.
MIGRANT LABOR ISSUES
In the 1970s, amid growing public awareness of the inequities faced by migrant farm workers, agriculture empires faced sharp criticism regarding their work conditions, wages, and other corporate policies and practices affecting their laborers. Duda too faced criticism from investigative reporters and journalists.
In response, the company eventually reworked its labor practices and began to offer benefits such as medical insurance, retirement plans, and educational opportunities. In 1989, it helped establish a day-care facility, supported by Head Start, at its Belle Glade, Florida, site. By the early 1990s, Duda had eliminated the use of outside contractors for its work crews; all its foremen were employees of the company, though it did lend some of its crews to other growers during summer growing seasons.
In the latter part of the 1980s, Duda began to emphasize citrus production. Crops in production included celery, radishes, oranges, grapefruit, sweet corn, lettuce, cabbage, parsley, melons, sod, peppers, and carrots. The company grew tomatoes, but dropped this business in the mid-1990s due to increasing price pressure from growers in Mexico following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The company was also garnering new customers for its produce, including restaurant chains and even the Campbell Soup Company.
DEVELOPING A REAL ESTATE BUSINESS
The parent company’s revenues were nearly $200 million in the late 1980s. By this time, the Duda family owned about 115,000 acres in Florida, making it one of the state’s largest landowners.
As the St. Petersburg Times reported, the company was turning to property development to keep its latest crop of heirs, mostly females, interested in the family business. In 1986 the company set up a real estate subsidiary originally called Duda Lands, Inc., and later it started The Viera Company.
For over 80 years, A. Duda & Sons, Inc., has been growing good food to feed our nation and the world. But in addition to being a leading grower, shipper and marketer of fresh and processed vegetables and citrus, A. Duda & Sons is also a producer of sod, sugarcane and cattle.
Duda had become one of the world’s largest producers of celery and radishes. It boasted 1,000 employees and 3,000 seasonal workers, according to a lengthy 1993 profile in Personnel Journal. Revenues grew to $250 million over the next few years. The celery business was proving less and less attractive, however, to other Florida growers. By 1995, there were only six companies producing the crop in the state; in another several years, Duda would be the only one left, and it was cutting its acreage devoted to celery in favor of less demanding crops such as sugarcane.
The company’s Zellwood, Florida, vegetable packing operation was abruptly closed in 1998 following a mandate from water management officials interested in cleaning nearby Lake Apopka. Duda had previously sold the land to the state and was leasing it back.
In the late 1990s Duda controlled about 90,000 acres of farmland. An estimated 10 percent of the company’s revenues came from exports. The international market was growing more important, while U.S. celery consumption was slipping. Another trend was the growing share of restaurants in the overall food market; Duda renewed its efforts to supply this sector with processed vegetables.
FAMILY FACING FUTURE
In 2004 the Duda Family Council was formed to keep its members connected. Most of its 11 members did not work for the family business, however. A key challenge for the company was the transfer of control to the fourth generation of family members. Fewer and fewer were interested in the business; about five-dozen members of the family held shares in the company. The family continued to be quite involved in Florida’s civic and political life. The company strongly favored the Republican Party in its campaign contributions.
Total revenues were $464 million in 2005, according to a Florida Trend piece on the company. Duda restructured in 2006, grouping its frozen vegetable and beverage businesses into a new subsidiary called Duda Products Inc., while fresh fruits and vegetables became the basis for the newly formed Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.
Frederick C. Ingram
Duda Fresh Farm Foods, Inc.; Duda Products, Inc.; The Viera Company.
Chiquita Brands, Inc.; Dole Food Company, Inc.; Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc.; Fresh Kist Produce LLC; The St. Joe Company; Tanimura & Antle Inc.
- Andrew Duda begins farming business in central Florida with his sons.
- Company is incorporated.
- The “three seniors,” the founder’s sons, pass the business on to a third generation.
- California operations are launched.
- Duda establishes farming operations in Texas.
- Viera Company is formed to manage the Dudas’ planned community in Brevard County.
- Revenues reach about $250 million.
- Duda restructures, forming agricultural and real estate subsidiaries.
Anderson, Jack, and Les Whitten, “Poor Lose Again,” Evening Capital (Annapolis, Md.), June 23, 1976, p. 4.
_____, “Poverty in Fields,” Evening Capital (Annapolis, Md.), March 13, 1976, p. 4.
Aronson, Earl, “Duda Stalks Bigger Share of Celery Market,” Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Ill.), April 21, 1989, Garden Talk Sec., p. 2.
Backman, Lisa, “Duda Steps Up Development Pace,” Orlando Business Journal, July 16, 1989, p. 1.
Barnett, Cynthia, “The Duda Way: Cultivating Generations,” Florida Trend, September 2006, pp. 60–63.
Bryant, Dan, “Gray Meets Celery Industry Challenges,” Western Farm Press, November 4, 2000, p. 1.
“Florida Cold Snap Reminds Citrus Growers of 1980s Deep Freeze,” Tampa Tribune, January 4, 2001.
Jackson, Jerry, “Oviedo, Fla.-based Agribusiness Giant Ends Four Decades of Australia Ranching,” Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, December 9, 1998.
_____, “Oviedo, Fla.-based Company to Close Vegetable Packing Plant in Zellwood,” Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, June 25, 1999.
Jackson, Jerry W., “Farms Will Let Workers Go to Rally: A. Duda & Sons and Taylor & Fulton Farms Say They Back Immigration,” Orlando Sentinel, April 28, 2006.
Laabs, Jennifer J., “Partnerships Benefit a Grower and Its Workers,” Personnel Journal, June 1993, pp. 44–52.
“Largest Vegetable Growers in the Southeast, 2004,” AVG, October 2004, p. 15.
Lordan, Betsy, “World’s Largest Producer of Celery Began with a Pioneering Family,” Monterey County Herald (California), July 26, 1998.
Millstein, Marc, “Industry Is Not Ready for Branding,” Supermarket News, January 7, 1991, p. 42.
Otterbourg, Ken, “Keeping the Family in the Family Business: Dudas Turning to Land as Company Grows,” St. Petersburg Times, February 12, 1989, p. 1I.
Rexrode, Christina, “Three Generations—Going on Four; Functional Family, Functional Business: It Can Be Done, Harmoniously and Profitably,” St. Petersburg Times, February 18, 2007, p. 1F.
Salisbury, Susan, “Belle Glade, Fla., Grower Discusses Challenges of Producing Celery,” Palm Beach Post, September 2, 2002.
_____, “Publix Changes Selection Method for Produce Vendors; Florida Growers Worry,” Palm Beach Post, November 26, 2002.
Stuart, Peggy, “A Better Future for Migrant Workers,” Personnel Journal, December 1992, p. 65.
Troxler, Howard, “Forces Line Up to Separate ‘Simple’ from ‘Majority,’” St. Petersburg Times, September 26, 2006, p. 1B.