Snowy Wisconsin doesn’t usually bring to mind golden citrus and other fresh fruits, but Tree Ripe Citrus Company has been bringing Florida oranges to the Badger State for over 20 years. Founded in 1990 by COO Tiernan Paine’s grandfather, who had worked in trucking and produce, Tree-Ripe Citrus’s goal was to bring good quality citrus to Wisconsin, where it was often impossible to find fresh citrus.
What’s the difference between what Tree-Ripe Citrus offers and a local Wisconsin grocery story? Paine explains: “Commercially-grown fruit is picked before it is ripe, and then goes through distribution, which means it is 17-20 days before the fruit actually gets to Wisconsin and is put in the stores. We cut out the middle man, the warehouse and the cold storage so the ripe fruit is picked and driven from Florida to Wisconsin within 24 hours, meaning that our customers can get our fruits 2-4 days after it’s been picked, which makes a huge difference in flavor.”
While Tree-Ripe Citrus started off just selling citrus, it has expanded over the years to include Georgia peaches and pecans, Michigan blueberries, and other fruits as they come into season. The territory they sell to has expanded as well, now encompassing Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa, and Minnesota. Most fruit is sold out of the back of their delivery trucks, as it was when the company first started, and lines can stretch for blocks when the trucks come to town. Tree-Ripe has also set up stalls in some farmer’s markets to great success, according to Paine: “There’s no competition against us since there are no local citrus growers. Bringing our fruit to farmer’s markets typically brings a huge boost in popularity to the markets, so we’re in high demand!” The company has grown their business simply through word of mouth, but last year they expanded their social media presence through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, hoping to appeal to a younger demographic.
Territorial expansion for a company like this is difficult, since Tree-Ripe Citrus revolves around being able to provide fresh produce in a short time. However, they’ve found other ways to grow their business, including selling to high-end restaurants in the Milwaukee area, including Sanford, home to James Beard-nominated chef Justin Aprahamian. Wisconsin breweries O’So and Like Minds use their peaches for their sour beers and other businesses, like local bakeries and ice cream shops, also use their fruit in their goods. While Tree-Ripe Citrus has grown far and wide from their humble beginnings, their mission remains the same, Paine says. “We just want to get fruit to as many people as we can!”