Orange juice makers consider using other fruits after prices go ‘bananas’

<span>The harvest in Brazil, which accounts for 70% of global orange juice exports, is forecast to be almost a quarter down on last year.</span><span>Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters</span>
The harvest in Brazil, which accounts for 70% of global orange juice exports, is forecast to be almost a quarter down on last year.Photograph: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Orange juice makers are considering turning to alternative fruits such as mandarins as wholesale prices have “gone bananas” amid fears of poor harvests in Brazil.

Prices of orange juice reached a new high of $4.95 (£3.88) a lb on commodity markets this week after growers in the main orange producing areas of Brazil said they were expecting the harvest to be 24% down on last year at 232m 40.8kg boxes – worse than the 15% fall previously predicted.

Orange trees in Brazil have been suffering from citrus greening, an incurable disease, after extreme heat stress and drought during their key flowering period in the latter part of last year fuelled by the climate crisis.

The predicted poor crop in Brazil, which accounts for 70% of all orange juice exports, marks the third difficult global harvest in a row. As well as problems in Brazil, Florida in the US has been hit by a series of hurricanes and the greening disease, which is spread by sap-sucking insects and turns the fruit bitter before killing the tree.

The series of poor harvests has limited manufacturers’ ability to ride out the current difficulties by mixing the new crop with frozen juice – which normally has a two-year lifespan.

“This is a crisis,” Kees Cools, the president of the International Fruit and Vegetable Juice Association (IFU) told the Financial Times. “We’ve never seen anything like it, even during the big freezes and big hurricanes.”

The IFU has said it is considering lobbying for a rewrite of UN-level food regulations so that orange juice can contain other citrus fruits, as well as pursuing rule changes at the country level.

Francois Sonneville, a senior beverages analyst at Rabobank, said consumer demand for orange juice was down by about a fifth, compared with last year, as the price had “gone bananas” and consumer habits had changed.

“The global orange juice industry is in crisis. The Florida industry has all but disappeared, and Brazilian groves are plagued by disease, rising costs, and unfavourable growing conditions, leaving global orange juice supplies at their lowest point in decades,” he said.

Sonneville said drinks makers would have to either use lower quality juice, create mixed juices with other fruits such as apple, mango or grapes, or charge consumers higher prices. He was sceptical that mandarins could be used to replace oranges as this would involve new expense in transporting the fruit to a processor.

The problems would persist, he said, as it took a long time to plant new orange groves and farmers were considering other options as demand was diminishing while they faced problems with disease and high labour costs in Florida.

“You would have to think hard about planting a tree [that would last] for the next 25 years as next year prices could be lower again,” Sonneville added.