By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Small businesses are having to deal with major issues like inflation, the threat of a new COVID variant, and especially higher fuel costs, and that is the challenge for the family-owned Fruitique Ice Cream company.

They produce tropical flavored ice cream and have built an expanding business.

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Their display case freezers are located in local supermarkets, tourist spots, drug stores, convenience markets from the Keys up the east coast to New England.

“We have coconut, mango, passion fruit. We have locations all over the beach with CVS, Walmart,” said family member Juan Puerto.

In the freezers, customers find square bars, popsicles, and pints of the naturally-flavored ice cream.

A true small business, where two brothers, Juan and German Puerto, got more involved in the company their father had started.

In 2016, they sought help from FIU’s Small Business Development Center and were provided with strategies on how to expand.

The expansion went well, but then came COVID.

Juan remembers, “a lot of our clients, like parks and museums, they all closed down so that hit us hard.”

What to do? Expand the business! More retail.

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Volume expanded their market outside South Florida. Fruitique weathered COVID with an expanded footprint.

“We were able to expand our retail business which was the only thing strong during COVID,” said Juan.

The brothers will tell you the company came out of the COVID economic crunch better positioned than before, but then as employees turned out tropical flavors like mamey, coconut, dulce de leche, passion fruit… came supply-chain issues, inflation and the increase in fuel prices.

It was hard to find workers, then it became hard to find dairy products basic to the ice cream business.

Juan told CBS4, “The dairy prices, it is a commodity, there have been going up 40 percent from last year.”

The family went back to the consultants at FIU’s Small Business Development Center.

Brian Van Hook from the SBDC said, “Working on the business, the financials, the operations, all trying to cut some expenses, if they can come out.”

“If they can raise prices, figure out HR and staffing in the ‘new normal.’ The family raised prices, paid employees more to retain them, put more product into the stores. New display freezers. Challenges keep coming not uncommon for small businesses, but in these times, issues well beyond the control of the business owner.”

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Looking at the big picture Juan remains more than optimistic, “Oh yeah, I mean during the pandemic, now with gas prices, it is tough but, I try to end the day on a good note.