OJ Gets Squeezed
Getting specific numbers from the major orange juice players is a challenge. "We don't have a complete picture, says Charles Torrey, Minute Maid's marketing director for refrigerated products. "From what we can survey, about 10 percent of consumers are drinking less orange juice, stating calories, sugar or carbohydrates as the reason. We also can surmise through secondary data, such as articles in nutrition journals and newspapers, [that] about 4 percent of consumers may be avoiding orange juice specifically because of the low-carb diet." At Tropicana, chief marketing officer Ron Coughlin admits the orange juice category has seen a decline but says orange juice sales at Tropicana are steady.
Orange juice has been a pervasive presence at the American table, offered at breakfast counters in the same breath as coffee. But it wasn't always that way. It didn't enter the U.S. market until the 1920s when citrus growers in Florida and California joined forces in a major ad campaign to promote oranges and orange juice. The concept of vitamins had recently been introduced to the public, and orange juice -- lauded for its vitamin C in the battle against scurvy -- became an essential part of the American breakfast. "Rarely has a food habit been adopted so quickly by so many people," says Andy Smith, editor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (Oxford University Press). "Americans became convinced during this time that [their] health depended on orange juice each morning."
At first that juice was fresh. "The vast abundance and the lowering of cost of oranges during the early 20th century made fresh-squeezed orange juice common at breakfast," says Smith. Then during the 1920s and '30s, the focus shifted to canned juice.
But the newly refined freezing process and advances in transportation developed during World War II propelled orange juice into refrigerated trucks, supermarkets and kitchens after the war. Industry giants Tropicana and Minute Maid point to their role in that process.
Minute Maid gets the credit for frozen concentrate. Before the end of the war, Minute Maid's eventual founder Jack Fox was working on powdered juice for the U.S. Army.With the end of the war, he came upon freezing, an interim process that had more promise. In 1949, his company, the Florida Foods Corp., changed its name to Minute Maid. Tropicana gets the credit for flash-pasteurizing fresh orange juice (by raising the temperature of the juice for a very short time) in 1954 and shipping it in wax cartons.
The industry has always had its challenges: freezing weather that cut into crops; diseases that attack citrus groves. The familiar 64-ounce containers also face competition from other juice drinks on supermarket shelves (often marketed in individual serving sizes), and from an on-the-go lifestyle.
Then came the sales drop of the past three years. "No one was quite sure why," says Gunter. "We started looking for the other things and only recently discovered what it really was -- the low-carb diet and an increased awareness even among people not on the diet that orange juice has carbs in it."
(A typical eight-ounce glass of orange juice has 26 to 27 grams of carbohydrates. That's far more than an eight-ounce glass of tomato juice at 10 grams, whole milk at 11 grams or skim milk at 12 grams, according to "The Nutrition Bible" by Jean Anderson and Barbara Deskins (Dimensions, 1997).
The Florida Department of Citrus decided to address the problem by emphasizing the health values of orange juice.
"We'd gotten away from plugging vitamin C and potassium and folic acid," says the department's spokesman Andrew Meadows. "And lately there's been a lot of buzz around antioxidants, and orange juice is loaded with them. The underlying message is that if you're on a diet or not, orange juice is such a valuable source of vitamins and minerals, that you don't need to cut it out."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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