Orange juice seems to be everywhere these days, both in-store and in the marketplace, buoyed by federally approved health claims and new manufacturing and packing initiatives designed to boost appeal beyond breakfast.
The increase in variety, documentation of health benefits and expansive marketing strategies have -- without a doubt -- boosted orange juice's popularity, retailers and suppliers told SN. The problem has become where to present all of this to consumers at the store level.
"With a category this big, we have dozens of brands and dozens of products and blends within each brand and it goes on and on," said Jim Collins, national accounts manager for Chicago-based retailer IGA. "So shelf space and in-store placement becomes a tricky situation."
And even as sales numbers continue to swell, the orange juice industry is still pushing for new buyers, creating exotic hybrid flavors, solidifying a better image, and jockeying for its fair share of face time on store floors.
According to industry insiders who spoke with SN, several different trends and consumer ideals have converged to create new excitement in the orange juice category. The Food Institute, Elmwood Park, N.J., recently analyzed AC Nielsen Scantrack Topline figures and found that supermarket sales of refrigerated orange juice were up 5% in volume in November 2000, and 5.5% in revenue, compared to the same month in 1999.
According to the same report, sales of not-from-concentrate orange juice accounted for 46% of refrigerated orange juice volume and 53% of dollar sales.
Behind such figures, and at the top of most retailer and manufacturer lists, is the ever-growing health consciousness that seems to drive so many consumer purchase decisions these days.
"It really is a marvelous trend for the orange juice business," said Dan Schafer, spokesperson for the Minute Maid Co., Houston, Texas. "Orange juice was healthy before healthy was even a trend, so we just keep doing what we've been doing, and simply get better at it as we go along."
According to Schafer, the health focus in the orange juice industry originated in the 1980s, when companies began fortifying their product with elements thought to be lacking in most American diets.
Today, consumers crave more vitamins to prevent common colds and maintain a healthy balance of nutrients, and fortification through vitamins C and E, as well as zinc, is in huge demand and have become an industry staple, said Schafer.
Though orange juice has always been viewed as "a naturally functional food," Kristine Nickel, communications director for Tropicana Products, Bradenton, Fla., said that today's fortification efforts have not dented that natural image, and that products such as Tropicana's double vitamin C orange juice simply give consumers what they want -- better health.
Promoting the healthy aspect of orange juice continues to be the No. 1 force behind the beverage's surge in sales, as more and more consumers become interested in that aspect and purchase those products that can provide the most nutrients.
At IGA-member stores, dairy managers are constantly looking for new space-management ideas when dealing with orange juice and its new family of blends, Collins said.
IGA supermarkets use a substantial number of end caps and isolated coolers, including coffin cases, to sell orange juice, and often market their own store brand in such positions, away from the dairy aisle where the major brand names get all the attention, he added.
They also offer their own orange juice in displays that contain other IGA-packaged deli products, effectively cross merchandising it with several different items and helping to sway the consumer away from the notion that orange juice is a one-meal beverage.
"Putting the orange juice someplace other than where people expect it in the store can really help in altering the perception of it as just something you wash down breakfast with," said Collins. "And that's a major goal."
Manufacturers are also helping to manage the category. Tropicana has distributed 500 "Fridge O' Pub" promotional displays to retailers, allowing them to construct secondary displays from bare floor. The cardboard, air-conditioned merchandiser includes graphics on the outside promoting the products' nutritional content, and allows the company to move the products out of the traditional dairy aisle location.
Creating a new personality for orange juice has become a focus of most manufacturers and retailers, and according to Nickel, spilling the beverage off of the breakfast table is a goal that is being pursued using a game plan adopted from fluid milk: single-serve plastic bottles.
"People want something they can take on the go, put in the coffee holder of their car and drink on the way to work," said Nickel. "More consumers are on the go today, so orange juice should be able to go with them."
Straying from the traditional gable carton, which most shoppers still reach for first, will be "an uphill struggle," said Schafer, but he noted that single-serve containers have helped revitalize the milk industry and could do just as well for orange juice.
"It's an idea whose time has come, and it will grow," said Schafer. "But it may grow slowly."
Tropicana recently introduced a single-serve, 16-ounce plastic bottle of orange juice called Season's Best, which is easy to hold and unbreakable. Among the retail benefits found with the new bottles are a six-month shelf life and a case weight that's five pounds lighter than the traditional glass bottles.
What's inside the package has also helped propel the category to new heights. One recent idea that Minute Maid has gotten behind, due to its popularity among consumers, is the packaging of "high-pulp" orange juice, which gives many shoppers a stronger sense of freshness in the product and "reminds them of mom squeezing the oranges out back when they were kids," said Schafer.
Most packaging strategies revolve around the health aspects of orange juice, said Nickel, who stressed the importance of an attractive, creative logo that also emphasizes the healthy nature of the product.
Both Schafer and Nickel agreed that the hot new trend of blending juices continues to be one of the top packaging ideas in the industry, as it not only provides consumers with a more diverse selection and new tastes, but also generates more interest from younger consumers, who usually view juice as "a nuisance when they can just have soda," said Schafer.
New blended products, such as orange-pineapple juice, open up new ground for manufacturers and retailers alike to be inventive and fresh while continuing to provide the same healthy and flavorful items, said Schafer.
And orange juice itself hasn't lost a step amongst the hybrid beverages.
"Orange juice is holding its own against the new blends, and all that's really happening is that the blends are giving us a wider audience to sell to," said Nickel. "But, orange juice will always have its place."
Most shoppers are also avid label readers these days, added Schafer, and inspect on-product claims much more thoroughly than in the past, especially those that tout health values.
"We see people, all the time, squinting at a carton of juice, then putting it down and squinting at another brand's label until they see what they want and who has more of it," said Schafer. "That's who we have to sell."
Nickel agreed with Schafer concerning consumers and their affinity for product labels, and sees the newly approved health benefits as a golden opportunity to inform shoppers and boost profits.
"Consumers look for information more on food packaging now than ever before," said Nickel. "They've really become label-savvy, and we intend to cater to that."
One of the most recent, and most significant, industry coups in the area of health benefits and on-package labeling for orange juice came this past October, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new health claim -- that potassium in orange juice helps reduce risks of high blood pressure and stroke.
Juice manufacturers now have the opportunity to label containers of orange juice with the claim, "Diets containing foods that are good sources of potassium and low in sodium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke." Each product can also feature a logo stating that orange juice "Promotes Cardiovascular Health."
At the retail level, Tropicana has designated $10 million to promoting the new health claims through in-store displays and print advertisements that specifically target blacks and Hispanics, who tend to have higher blood pressure rates than Caucasians.
Furthermore, Tropicana will also be placing 5,000 blood-pressure machines in supermarkets across the country that will be covered with the company's logo and various other advertisements.