- Recent estimates show that Hurricane Irma damaged close to 70% of Florida’s orange trees, according to The Washington Post. The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association reports that there wasn’t a grove in the state that was not affected, and predicts that harvest will be down 70% statewide.
- Irma's destruction is the latest obstacle for orange juice — 90% of the Sunshine State's $1 billion annual harvest is used to make it. Growing consumer distaste for the beverage's high sugar content and preference for on-the-go breakfast options have also hurt the industry since its peak in the late 1990s.
- The price hikes that will likely result from the damage are expected to drive the former breakfast staple further out of consumer favor. One analyst found that a 10% increase in the cost of juice causes a 7.6% decrease in sales. "There was already a decline in demand for orange juice," Tatiana Andreyeva, director of economic initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told The Washington Post. "The hurricane will likely just make it worse."
Orange juice, once a beloved breakfast classic, has been disappearing from breakfast tables for years. Now, with Florida farmers reporting that post-Irma crop damage is the worst they've seen in more than 20 years, the prognosis for the beverage looks pretty bleak.
An 8-ounce serving of orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar, just three grams shy of the World Health Organization's recommended daily limit. OJ's high sugar content, plus the recent blow to Florida's orange groves, may cement the beverage's status as a specialty item.
Orange juice remains America's favorite "fruit" — the average U.S. consumer drinks 23.74 pounds of orange juice per year, compared to the 10.66 pounds of fresh apples. And it's still the nation's favorite juice, according to a recent survey from Comax Flavors. But The Washington Post article points out that thousands of acres of Florida orange groves have already been sold to developers or converted to other crops. After assessing the full extent of Hurricane Irma’s damage, many expect to see more farmers give up on the citrus fruit.
Manufacturers have been trying to jumpstart the juice market for years. Exotic fruit blends, cold-pressed juicing and added functional benefits have been touted as ways to get consumers drinking more.
However, all of the innovation in the world can't turn around a supply problem. Last year, Florida's orange crop was down 14%, with the lowest yield since 1963-64. Additionally, insect-spread citrus greening disease, which has been killing many of the state's orange trees, has been a constant problem that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was hoping to try to solve through more than $13 million in research grants. It will be interesting to see if supply can rebound quickly enough for the market to weather these storms.