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By Steve Johnson, Chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission

Today, we are going to enhance the way we think about measuring the success of retail sales. For years, we have simply compared year-over-year data. That worked when, for too long, the only changes over time were numbers growing smaller and smaller with each new report. High prices, a reduction in supply, concerns over sugar, a crowded beverage aisle, and dwindling marketing funds combined to push orange juice out of mind for many consumers during that period of time.

In 2019, before the pandemic, the Department of Citrus charted a course to drive sales of 100% orange juice through e-commerce by targeting precisely those consumers who had walked away or simply forgot the health and wellness attributes of OJ. The plan would measure success through Nielsen retail sales, aiming to show a slowing of the consistent decline that had plagued the industry for years. Launched in January 2020, the campaign proved an immediate success, on track to hit all goals in its first few months.

Then the pandemic stopped everyone in their tracks. Suddenly consumers were turning to 100% orange juice with renewed fervor. Decades of messaging about the health benefits of OJ surged to the surface of consumers’ minds and they purchased orange juice for its immune support. Sales skyrocketed initially and eventually settled into a trend measuring consistently above the previous year’s levels.

But here we are more than a year out. Consumers are no longer stockpiling food for fear of lockdowns or scarcity. The sales increases experienced in those early days were not only unsustainable but unlikely to be repeated again. To compare today’s sales to those of last year would lose sight of the actual momentum gained over the course of a year. So, instead, we’re looking at the big picture provided by a 3-year comparison report with figures from 2019, 2020 and 2021 for a true sense of the momentum we have achieved.

For the 4-week period ending March 20, 2021, average sales of total OJ are up by 3.38% compared to 2019 values, to 31.79 million equivalent gallons. NFC OJ is a driving force in this increase in volume sales as they are up by 6.52% compared to 2019 values while average sales of Recon are down by 2.7 percent.

Looking at the 2020-21 season as a whole, which began in October, sales continue to be up 5% over 2019-20 with 203.26 million equivalent gallons sold. This is due to the inclusion of pandemic months within the time period. The current season is up 7.77% when compared to 2018-19 values. NFC sales for the season are up by 8.6% with 127 million equivalent gallons sold and Recon are down by 1.5% with 67 million equivalent gallons sold so far.

While we continue to have momentum that is carrying us above 2019 sales levels, it won’t stay that way without effort on our part. The need for further investment in marketing activities to keep Florida OJ top of mind is critical as consumers return to their pre-pandemic routines. Emerging research shows some consumer behaviors will likely stick around once things return to normal, such as online shopping or e-commerce. But other things are likely to change, such as the trend of eating breakfast at home. While the Department’s e-commerce campaign continues to perform well, more will need to be done to make up for the changes in other areas of consumers’ lives that directly impacts orange juice consumption.

The Department is planning for that and more as they look ahead to the next year. The current e-commerce campaign to drive sales of 100% orange juice continues to have strong results. Since July, the campaign has reached 331.9 million impressions and driven $16.4 million in sales with a Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) of $9.02.

As growers, we must do our part, as well. We need to stay on top of replanting efforts and improve production in order to support the supply side of the momentum. Consumers adding orange juice to their shopping list need to know it will be on the shelf when they get to the store. When we work together, we can make sure there’s a carton of Florida OJ for every cart.

Originally published in the Florida Citrus Mutual Triangle