In a significant shift for the orange juice industry, Florida’s Natural, a well-known brand owned by a collective of citrus growers in Florida, has made the decision to blend orange juice from outside the Sunshine State. Previously known for its label that proudly boasted “100% premium Florida orange juice,” the company has now started incorporating orange juice from Mexico and Brazil into its products.
This move by Florida’s Natural marks a turning point, as it becomes the last major brand to blend Florida orange juice with juice from other regions. The decision has not been without controversy, with many consumers expressing their disappointment on social media platforms. The shift away from solely Florida-grown oranges has raised concerns about the potential loss of the unique flavor that is synonymous with the state.
Dan Richey, who operates Riverfront Packing in Vero Beach and works closely with citrus farmers on the Treasure Coast, including those affiliated with Florida’s Natural, acknowledged the difficult decision the company had to make. Richey emphasized that Florida simply does not produce enough oranges to meet the demand, making the inclusion of imported oranges a necessary step.
When questioned about the change, Florida’s Natural declined an interview but emphasized its commitment to supporting the cooperative of Florida growers and their families. The company stated that Florida oranges remain its first choice, despite the decision to import oranges.
Florida’s Natural is not alone in this shift toward blending juices from multiple sources. Simply Orange, the second best-selling brand in the United States, incorporates oranges from California, Mexico, and Brazil into its juice blend. Tropicana, the nation’s top-selling orange juice, also includes oranges from the U.S. and Brazil. In fact, Tropicana discontinued its use of 100% Florida-grown oranges in 2007.
The decline in the use of solely Florida-grown oranges can be attributed to various factors, according to Richey. Plant diseases like citrus canker and citrus greening have had a devastating impact on citrus groves, leading to a reduction in production. Additionally, hurricanes and urban development, which have resulted in the conversion of citrus groves into housing subdivisions, have further contributed to the decline.
Despite the shift away from 100% Florida-grown orange juice by major brands, there are still options available for consumers seeking juice made solely from Florida oranges. Fort Pierce-based Natalie’s and Indian River Citrus continue to distribute 100% Florida-grown orange juice. However, these smaller brands come at a higher cost, ranging from 40% to 80% more expensive than the national brands.
To determine whether the change in sourcing oranges makes a difference to consumers, WPTV conducted a taste test among long-time orange juice drinkers. The majority favored the 100% Florida-grown juice over the blend of Florida and foreign-grown oranges. This preference highlights the unique flavor profile that Florida oranges bring to the table.
Despite the challenges faced by the citrus industry, there is hope for the upcoming season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts a 30% increase in orange production for the next growing season, which would reverse a two-decade decline. Richey remains optimistic that this increase in production will lead to national brands incorporating a larger percentage of Florida-grown oranges into their blends. While reaching the peak production levels of the past may be unlikely, an increase in Florida orange juice is anticipated.
The citrus industry continues to play a significant role in Florida’s economy, contributing $7 billion, with citrus juices accounting for over $5 billion of that total, according to Citrus Industry Magazine. As the industry navigates the challenges of disease, weather, and changing consumer preferences, the future of Florida orange juice remains a topic of great interest and importance.