Talk of the Bay

Published June 26, 2006

Citrus league learns Oprah's power

If Oprah Winfrey's involved in something, it wins headlines.

Doug Bournique, executive director of the Indian River Citrus League, learned that first-hand when his organization rejected a plan to promote grapefruit in conjunction with a book called Best Life Diet written by the media mogul's personal trainer and diet adviser. The group's board, representing the world's largest grapefruit-growing region, voted against the Florida Department of Citrus spending $900,000 on promotions connected to the book if it meant a hike in the per-box tax growers pay.

Without a tax increase from 60 to 67 percent, depending on whether grapefruit is sold fresh or to make juice, the marketing promotion can't happen, citrus officials say.

The story went national last week, to Bournique's surprise. He worried that people thought his group was simply bashing Oprah.

"It came off wrong," he said. "We all understand that everything Oprah touches is gold. But after all the hurricanes, growers just want to tighten their belts and do the best they can to hold on. A tax increase for any reason goes off like a lead balloon."

The Florida Citrus Commission, which is the department's ruling board, will vote next month on the tax increase proposal, so the book promotion is alive.

The book, written by Bob Greene, includes references to grapefruit and grapefruit juice in its diet regimen. Oprah is writing the introduction. The book is coming out early next year whether or not citrus officials tie in with it with a PR effort.