America’s relationship with orange juice continues to sour

It’s staying on the shelf.
It’s staying on the shelf.
Image: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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The slow demise of one of America’s most beloved breakfast items continues.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that US orange juice sales are at a record low. Americans bought 34.96 million of gallons of orange juice in the four weeks that ended Aug. 2, down 9.2% from the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen data. Those numbers are the lowest since Nielsen first started recording such data in January 2002. As Quartz has reported, sales of orange juice in the US have fallen every year for the last decade and per capita consumption has fallen 40% over the same period as new items such as energy and coffee drinks have grabbed a larger share of the market.

Companies, however, will not be able to answer weak demand with cheaper prices, because supply is so low. This year is expected to be the lowest Florida crop for 50 years because of the spread of a bacterial disease known as citrus greening, which cuts off nutrients from getting to fruit and has destroyed groves across the state (the world’s second largest orange-producing region, after Brazil). As a result, retailers have had to keep prices high. According to Nielsen, the average price nationwide is $6.44 for a gallon, roughly 4% higher than a year ago and the highest on record.

Another reason for record low sales may be the steady shift in Americans’ diets. In addition to its high price tag, orange juice is sugary and high in calories. An average cup (8 oz) of orange juice contains roughly 20 grams of sugar and 112 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

The USDA will publish its forecast for the next orange harvest in October, but few expect the numbers to be encouraging.