UMATILLA, FL-Golden Gem Growers, Florida’s largest citrus cooperative business, is reorganizing its 54-year-old operations under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and talking with an investment group on taking over its $20 million loan with Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank.

Golden Gem filed for protection from its creditors after the bank placed a lien on its inventory and intangible property. The bank had balked at extending terms on the $20 million loan, area financial consultants familiar with the transaction tell on condition of anonymity.

The company’s estimated 300,000-sf juice-packaging plant sits on an estimated 50 acres in northeast Lake County, 35 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando. couldn’t learn if part of Golden Gem’s real estate is also under lien.

The co-op is asking the bankruptcy court to allow it to continue daily operations on a debtor-in-possession status, a request routinely granted to businesses by the court. Golden Gem, owned by 400 growers, employs 600 and is one of the largest employers in Lake County.

Golden Gem had been processing the fruit and packaging the juice under a variety of brands until two months ago when it struck a deal with Tampa, FL-based Lykes Brothers Inc. Lykes has started processing the fruit and delivering it to Golden Gem for packaging under a mix of retail labels.

Golden Gem anticipates handling five million boxes of fruit annually. Officials at Golden Gem and Lykes couldn’t be reached at’s publication deadline to learn the identity of Golden Gem’s new investment partner.

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