Florida orange juice and citrus sales have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry mostly attributes this to consumers' desire for Vitamin C to boost immune systems. The increasing sales mean that citrus growers were spared the disasters that many other produce growers and some dairy farms saw as restaurants closed suddenly in mid-March under pandemic restrictions.
So far, juice prices haven't jumped, but frozen orange juice futures spiked about 20 percent at one point, growers and industry sources said.
"The uptick we've seen of both fresh oranges and grapefruit sales, and for juice, has been remarkable," said Dan Richey, a grapefruit grower and president and CEO of Riverfront Packing Co. Vero Beach, Fla., about 80 miles north of West Palm Beach. "We attribute that to the recognition of citrus juices to boost the immune system.”
He said the boost came in mid-March, after the peak of harvest. His company saw no interruptions in the supply chain, but it did take steps to protect workers -- including social distancing in the packing plant and mask use.
"The demand for citrus is also about shelf life. People are buying things they can store for a while," Richey said. "We've seen a 60-percent uptick for citrus every week since March." The only exception was lemons, he said, which primarily go to restaurants, bars and food-service establishments.
Some orange juice sales destined for food service were lost, especially to breakfast restaurants, said Andrew Meadows, director of communications for Florida Citrus Mutual, a trade group.