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Manatee Fresh makes business pivot during pandemic to keep selling its flowers

After Manatee Fresh lost 80 percent of its business to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company had two options: close or change its business model.

Robert McLaughlin, who had served as chief sustainability officer for Manatee Farms, negotiated a management buyout of floral operations and pivoted Manatee Fresh’s business model.

The company expanded the wholesale and retail distribution of high quality, fresh-cut flowers, imported daily from around the world through a merger with Lowe & Behold, a leading Orlando full-service floral event and decor firm, said McLaughlin, who now serves as president of Manatee Fresh.

The merger enabled Manatee Fresh to add daily service to Orlando, Port Orange, Daytona, and Ormond Beach, to go along with previously established distribution in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Tampa, Bradenton, Sarasota and Fort Myers

The merger also improved Manatee Fresh’s creative and design abilities, and helped the company remain viable.

The business pivot turned Manatee Fresh from seeing an 80 percent loss of business to seeing sales improve 6 percent, year over year, McLaughlin said Monday. “We are excited that it has gone so well.”

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Robert McLaughlin, president of Manatee Fresh, has pivoted the business to grow and remain viable during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo was originally published May 8, 2018. Bradenton Herald file photo BRADENTON

Manatee Fresh leadership has been an advocate, industry driver, and a influencer of sustainable floriculture for more than 30 years, the company said in a press release.

Having required all farm partners to engage in sustainable floriculture and provide a safe workplace for decades before these imperatives were popularized, Manatee Fresh speaks to consumers who expect retailers to carry brands that reflect their personal values, the company said.

In a 2018 Bradenton Herald story, McLaughlin shared that flowers from Ecuador, Colombia, Israel, Netherlands, Italy, Thailand, California and elsewhere were being kept fresh, but not frozen, in the company’s Palmetto warehouse before being shipped to retailers.