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A Polk Perspective: Curing greening won’t solve industry’s problems

The Ledger – October 31, 2017

Since greening, or Huanglongbing (HLB), was first found near Homestead in 2005, it has spread to 90 percent of Florida’s citrus groves, and reduced orange production from 242 million boxes to 69 million boxes.
However, citrus production isn’t the only thing the Florida citrus industry is losing. It’s losing its market for orange juice.

Since 2001, the U.S. retail market for orange juice has declined by 50 percent.

Assuming one of the cures for HLB results in the planting of HLB-resistant trees that are in optimum production by 2031/32, and extrapolating the most recent three-year average annual rate of decline in OJ consumption to then, there will only be a market for 59 million boxes of Florida oranges.

An analysis of OJ demand shows that higher prices are only responsible for 63 percent of the decline in consumption over this 15-year period. In my opinion, the 37 percent decline in consumption not caused by higher prices is caused by consumers’ concerns about the high natural sugar content in OJ, and the fact that they haven’t been given a compelling reason to drink OJ for the past 15 years.

During the 1970s and 1980s, diet sodas were introduced into the U.S. retail marketplace, and many consumers switched from caloric to non-caloric soft drinks.

Currently, diet sodas account for almost half of total soft drink consumption. If sugar were the cause of obesity, almost half of the American population would have lost weight when they switched to diet sodas.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of obese adults increased from 11.1 percent to 29.3 percent.

So how come switching from consuming orange juice to water or lower calorie beverages would prevent consumers from becoming obese when switching to diet sodas didn’t?

According to the results of research published in the Journal of Food Science, Nutrition Research, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Nutrition Journal, orange juice has the following benefits that most other beverages do not have: more nutrients per calorie than most other 100 percent fruit juices such as apple, grape, pineapple, and prune juice; unusually high in vitamin C; contains potassium citrate, flavonoids, folate, thiamine and other compounds that may act as anti-oxidants and as a result, can contribute to improved blood vessel functioning; reduced risk of some birth defects; reduced LDL (bad cholesterol); prevention of kidney stones; lower blood pressure; and protecting cells against free radicals which can reduce the chances of cancer.

In order to restore growth to the US OJ market, an effective marketing campaign must be developed, and funds must be acquired to support it.

One way to fund it is to partner with Citrus BR, the Brazilian Citrus Exporters Association, the way the European orange juice buyers/packagers are doing to grow the European OJ market.

If approached, the Brazilians would probably be interested in working with the Florida Citrus Commission to restore growth to the U.S. orange juice market the way they are working with the Europeans.

If something isn’t done to restore growth to the U.S. orange juice market, the citrus-growing part of the Florida citrus industry will ultimately become too small to support the infrastructure necessary for it to function competitively, and it will be gone.

Allen Morris was previously vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Lake Citrus Products in Winter Haven. He has worked as a consultant since November 2016.

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