(Click here to see the reaction and Response from Florida Department of Citrus to this story.)
When I was a young kid growing up in the 60s, I enjoyed squeezing fresh orange juice as a treat. I’d use a little plastic juicer and then pass it through a strainer to separate the pulp and seeds. Nothing tasted better than fresh squeezed orange juice from Florida. There was no doubt about it.
The ‘everyday’ drink in our house was frozen juice from concentrate. Our favourite brand was Old South, only purchased when it was on sale, since it was the more expensive label.
These days, most of the orange juice consumed is picked up in the dairy cooler section of the supermarket. It’s kept there because it’s a fresh product that needs to be refrigerated. Right? After all, it’s nothing but 100% fresh squeezed juice from Florida oranges. The oranges were probably hanging on a tree in some pretty Florida orange grove just days or maybe weeks previous. It was rushed to your supermarket to keep it fresh—that’s probably why it’s so much more expensive than frozen juice from concentrate. Right?
The truth is quite amazing. From a consumer standpoint, one could argue that there is a tremendous amount of deception in the marketplace when it comes to good old-fashioned orange juice.
From a branding standpoint what the multinational orange juice producers have done is nothing short of sheer marketing brilliance. So, as a communications and marketing guy I’m rather impressed with the radiant glow of orange juice in the marketplace.
I recently read Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, by Alissa Hamilton and published by Yale University Press. Hamilton has done a terrific job in her highly readable and well-documented 220 page book.
Here’s what the major marketers would like you to believe about the orange juice you see in those big jugs and cartons in the coolers near the milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, etc. They want you to think it’s:
– ‘simply’ orange juice, an uncomplicated product;
– nothing but 100% orange juice;
– come right from the grove;
– worth paying a premium for;
– better and less processed than frozen orange juice from concentrate;
– from Florida.
Here are 10 reasons I don’t drink this stuff much any more, now that I’ve read Hamilton’s book.
1) It’s heavily engineered and processed. Through pasteurization, fresh juice is heat treated and stripped of oxygen. The process is called deaeration and prevents oxidation (and therefore the spoiling) of the product.
2) Now stripped of oxygen, the juice can be stored for months, even up to a year in tanks that hold up to 7 million of gallons of juice.
3) The flavour in orange juice is largely derived from the oils and essence in the oranges. These too are stripped from the orange because they are volatile and would spoil the product. The oils are then sold to companies that specialize in the manufacture of flavours with specific profiles and qualities.
4) Each juice manufacturer desires a specific flavour profile that defines their product and projects a fresh flavour. The manufacturers then buy back ‘flavour packs’ from those companies. That’s how manufacturers maintain a consistent flavour, regardless of the time of year and where the oranges were grown.
5) Those flavour packs, derived from oranges produced all over the world, including from countries without stringent standards, are recombined with the deoxygenated ‘juice’. (Think about it, the orange juice you end up buying has likely spent more time in a tank and a chemist’s laboratory than it has in some idyllic orange grove.)
6) The phrase you read in big type on the cartons states: “Not from Concentrate” (NFC) which to most consumers suggests that concentrated orange juice (i.e. frozen concentrate) is an inferior and not fresh product. They are counting on you, the consumer, to conclude that since the product is not from concentrate… it’s fresh!
7) The Florida Orange Grove is fast becoming a myth as farmland there is ploughed under for development. Agricultural and environmental standards are higher in Florida and the United States than in virtually every other orange growing region on earth. The Florida orange grove is being supplanted by industrial operators in Brazil, where land is cheaper and environmental regulation is, by comparison, non-existent.
8) 100 % orange juice? U.S. regulations permit up to 10% tangerine juice to be added and still be called 100 % orange juice. (It’s a bit of a stretch, but imagine if something labelled 100% beef could legally include 10% horsemeat!).
9) Ever notice that the phrase “Orange Juice” does not appear in large type on the cartons you buy? It’s no coincidence. That’s because by U.S. law, if the product is labelled “Orange Juice” and has been pasteurized, the word “Pasteurized” must appear in type no smaller than half the size of the phrase “Orange Juice.” You’ll notice (see photos above) that the word “Pasteurized” is invariably noted on the back of the label, in narrower type, positioned to be far less noticeable than other, desirable information about the product.
10) Even though you may perceive you are drinking a fresh-squeezed product, because of the processing involved, the product is never labelled “Fresh.” Why? It’s not.
If the brand “Simply Orange” was called “Simply Orange Juice” instead, the word “Pasteurized” would be required to appear, according to U.S. food regulations, in type half the size of “Simply Orange Juice.” It would have to be over 1/2 inch tall! So, the manufacturer wants you to mentally fill in the word ‘juice’ when you see the product in the clear container that is shaped like an old time juice jug. Amazing marketing, yes?
Some orange juice in the cooler section is made from concentrate and is labelled as such. It is always cheaper than the NFC product. That’s not because it’s an inferior product. It costs less because it has been reconstituted closer to the point of sale and therefore costs less to ship. And, it’s a less expensive product to produce when compared to NFC. Finally, for those concerned about the environment, shipping the concentrate is far more eco-friendly.
So, from a branding and marketing perspective, it is easy to see that the manufacturers of these products have been wildly successful. From a consumer standpoint, well… there’s no doubt about it. What we see… or think we see, is not what we get.
Try this at home: Buy the following three products: A popular brand NFC orange juice from the supermarket cooler, a can of a popular brand “frozen juice from concentrate” and some good quality fresh oranges, like Valencia. Combine the NFC orange juice with water as directed. Squeeze the juice from the Valencia oranges.
Taste test them all, side by side, with the juices at the same temperature. These are my opinions: The fresh Valencia juice has a thinner consistency than NFC and definitely conveys a fresh, uncomplicated flavour. The frozen juice actually tastes pretty good. The NFC tends to have a thicker and slicker consistency though it leaves a good overall first impression, and it’s sweeter than both the frozen and fresh products. But when you actually focus on the three products, NFC, among the three does taste most like an artificial product, at least in my opinion.
Click here to see the reaction and Response from Florida Department of Citrus to this story.
By the way, Tropicana is owned by the folks at PepsiCo. Simply Orange and Minute Maid are owned by Coke.
John Ecker | Pantheon