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High orange juice prices may be on the table for a while

MOGI GUACU, Brazil — Orange juice prices have always been volatile, falling when bumper harvests create an oversupply of oranges and rising when frost or a hurricane knocks out fruit trees.

But the record-high prices the world is seeing for OJ right now may be on the table for a while, since the diseases and extreme weather ravaging orange groves in some top-producing countries aren’t easily resolved problems.

This year’s harvest in Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of orange juice, is likely to be the worst in 36 years due to flooding and drought, according to a forecast by Fundecitrus, a citrus growers’ organization in Sao Paulo state.

“The concern isn’t just that the price of juice is going up. The concern is not having the juice,” Oscar Simonetti, an orange farmer in Mogi Guacu, Brazil, said.

In the U.S., Florida’s already diminished orange production fell 62% in the 2022-2023 season after Hurricane Ian further battered a crop that was struggling due to an invasive pest. Drought also cut Spain’s orange production last year.

Scarce supplies have sent prices soaring. In the U.S., a 12-ounce can of frozen orange juice concentrate cost an average of $4.27 in April, 42% more than during the same month a year earlier, according to government figures.

In the United Kingdom, where the British Fruit Juice Association says supplies are at 50-year lows, the price of fresh orange juice rose 25% over the past year, according to consumer research company Nielsen.

Those price increases are turning off inflation-weary consumers. Orange juice consumption has fallen 15% to 25% in major global markets — including the U.S. and the European Union — over the last year, according to Rabobank, a Dutch bank that focuses on food and agriculture.

Jonna Parker, a principal for fresh food client insights at market research company Circana, said consumers are increasingly getting their morning fruit intake from energy drinks, smoothies and other beverages besides orange juice.

“The price gets high and people consider other alternatives,” she said.

Global orange juice consumption was already declining before the current price hikes due to competition from other drinks and public concern about the amount of sugar in fruit juices. If that trend continues, it should help balance supply with demand and keep prices from rising much further, Rabobank said. But it expects limited supplies will keep prices elevated for some time.

In some markets, orange juice is disappearing from shelves altogether.

Late last year, McDonald’s in Australia removed orange juice from its menu in favor of an “orange fruit drink” that contains 35% orange juice. The company cited short supplies.

Tokyo-based Morinaga Milk Industry Co. expects to stop shipping its Sunkist brand orange juice – which uses juice from Brazil – by the end of June because of low juice supplies from Brazil, a company spokeswoman said. In April 2023, Megmilk Snow Brand Co., based in the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, stopped shipments of about a quart and 15.2-ounce packs of orange juice, which it sells under an agreement with Dole. Sales haven’t yet resumed.

Some companies are considering using alternatives to oranges in their products. Coldpress, a British juice company, introduced a mandarin juice product in February, citing the high price of regular juicing oranges.

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