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Florida OJ Pales In Comparison With Juice Of The Past

May 5, 1989

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) _ Florida orange juice sometimes pales in comparison with the rich orange color the nectar used to have, and growers are starting to worry.

The change in color takes a sophisticated machine to measure, but many of the 12,000 growers and more than 30 citrus processors who share $4 billion a year in orange juice sales have noticed the change.

″This industry is running into real trouble,″ said David O. Hamrick, a veteran citrus grower and processor from Bradenton. ″The color issue is something we need to consider.″

Consumers apparently prefer darker orange juice and the industry fears that if juice continues to gradually lighten in coming decades, orange juice will lose some of its eye appeal. That could mean less revenue.

Weather is partly to blame. The industry is recovering rapidly from devastating freezes in 1983 and 1985 that destroyed about 200,000 of the state’s more than 847,000 acres of fruit trees.

Today the state has about 700,000 acres and in recent years growers have been planting at the rate of more than 50,000 acres a year.

In order to get fruit harvested before freezing weather in January or February, more growers are planting oranges that mature early in the harvesting season. Citrus must meet cerain government standards for natural sugar content before harvesting can begin.

The Hamlin orange is the main early-season juice-fruit. It ripens as early as October and produces a sweet juice. Unfortunately, the juice is far lighter in color than the late-season Valencia orange, which matures from March through June. Hamlin juice is more yellow than orange.

Processors often blend early- and late-season fruit for a more uniform product that consumers can rely on year-round. But with a higher percentage of Hamlins moving into the mixing vats, the color is fading.

″The problem is already acute,″ warned John Attaway, director of scientific research for the state Department of Citrus in Lakeland.

If the juice continues to get lighter in coming decades as newly planted Hamlin trees reach their peak in production, processors will have a harder time meeting the ″grade A″ government standards and consumers may turn to other juices and beverages.

But the truth is that dark juice may be less tasty, depending on the variety.

″Color perception is very important to consumers, but it’s only a perception,″ said Hamrick, who retired last year as senior vice president of Tropicana Products Inc., and has served for 16 years on the Florida Citrus Commission.

The 12-member panel of industry representatives acts as the board of directors for the Citrus Department and its more than $60 million-a-year promotional budget. The department is financed primarily by grower-paid taxes on harvested fruit.

-89 2219EDT

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