Poor harvests will drive up the price of orange juice

(Mogi Guaçu, Brazil) Due to illness and extreme heat, the table is set for expensive orange juice.




The price of orange juice has always been volatile. It falls when the orange harvest is plentiful and it rises when frost or a hurricane destroys the orange trees.

But current record prices may persist because diseases and extreme weather conditions that plague orange groves in many producing countries are not easy problems to solve.

This year’s harvest in Brazil, the world’s top orange juice exporter, is expected to be the worst in 36 years due to floods and drought, predicts Fundecitrus, the association of citrus growers in São Paulo state. Not to mention an epidemic affecting orange trees. “It’s not just that the price of juice is rising. The real concern is that there is no juice,” said Oscar Simonetti, an orange producer in Mogi Guaçu, Brazil.

PHOTO ANDRE PENNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Farmer Oscar Simonetti shows his oranges, some of which are affected by the yellow dragon disease, which destroys the root system of orange trees.

Already reduced orange production in Florida fell by 62% in 2022-2023, after the hurricane Ian had decimated a crop already damaged by a parasite. Spain, affected by the drought, also saw its production decline last year.

Prices have skyrocketed due to the shortage. In the United States, a 340 ml container of frozen concentrated orange juice cost an average of 42% more in April 2024 than in April 2023, government figures show.

In the United Kingdom, where stocks are at a 50-year low according to the British Fruit Juice Association, the price of fresh orange juice has risen 25% in the past year, according to research firm Nielsen.

This high price alienates consumers, who are already burned by inflation. According to Rabobank, a bank active in food and agriculture, orange juice consumption has fallen by 15 to 25 percent in the United States, the European Union and elsewhere in the world over the past year.

Consumers are increasingly replacing orange juice with energy drinks, smoothies and other beverages, according to Jonna Parker, who tracks fresh produce sales at market research firm Circana.

Juice is getting more and more expensive, so people are looking elsewhere.

Jonna Parker from market research agency Circana

Global orange juice consumption was already declining before the recent inflation, as other drinks compete with it and consumers are becoming aware of the high sugar content of fruit juices. If this trend continues, supply and demand should come into balance, which according to Rabobank would prevent further price increases. But reduced supply should support current high prices for some time.

No more orange juice in Australian McDonald’s

In some places, orange juice has been completely removed from the menu.

In late 2023, McDonald’s Australia addressed the shortage and replaced the orange juice with a “fruity orange drink” containing 35% orange juice.

PHOTO ANDRE PENNER, ASSOCIATED PRESS

A spoiled orange in an orange grove in Mogi Guaçu, Brazil. Just like in Florida, Brazilian crops are being hit by an epidemic.

Tokyo-based Morinaga Milk Industry plans to stop shipping Sunkist brand orange juice, made with juice from Brazil, at the end of June. Brazilian supplies have dried up, the company says. In April 2023, Megmilk Snow Brand of Sapporo, northern Japan, stopped offering its 1-liter and 450-milliliter boxes of Dole orange juice.

Some bottlers do without orange juice. Coldpress, a British juice company, launched a tangerine drink in February, citing the high price of oranges.

But several major orange juice makers have remained silent on the subject: Dole, Tropicana, Florida’s Natural, Uncle Matt’s and Coca-Cola (owner of the Simply and Minute Maid brands) declined to answer the company’s questions. Associated press.

Yellow dragon disease

Today’s problems have age-old roots. In 2005, an exotic insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, hit Florida. It injects orange trees with bacteria in the saliva, which slowly kills the tree by destroying the root system. There is no known cure.

The impact was devastating. In 2004, before yellow dragon disease (that’s the name) struck, Florida produced 200 million boxes of oranges. This year it will produce less than 20 million.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Asian citrus psyllid is the vector of a bacterium that causes yellow dragon disease in orange trees.

According to Michael Rogers, professor of entomology and director of the Citrus Research Center at the University of Florida, no orange tree is completely resistant to this disease, which causes fruits to turn green and some leaves to turn yellow. But botanists are trying to select more resistant varieties.

The epidemic arrived in Brazil around the same time as in Florida, but progressed more slowly there because Brazil’s orange groves are much larger.

The insects spread the disease by flying from tree to tree, Rogers said.

However, the disease is spreading. Fundecitrus estimates that 38% of Brazilian orange trees were infected with yellow dragon disease in 2023. Mr Simonetti, the orange grower, estimates that 20% of his production has been affected. Oranges from infected trees ripen poorly and drop prematurely, affecting the quality of their juice.

Brazil’s 2024-2025 harvest is expected to produce 232 million boxes of oranges, down 24% from last year.