ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Cold and flu season triggers a gold rush at supermarkets, as shoppers fill their carts with orange juice. Consumption of the juice traditionally spikes during January, February and March, as people try to stay healthy or feel better.
The seasonal phenomenon is most noticeable in the Northeast, the region that consumes more orange juice than any other part of the country. But the sun shines on this juice year-round as more and more people get the word about its nutrient values.
"Our orange juice sales have risen 30% in the last year. We've promoted it aggressively, but consumers also have been wanting more and more. We've seen particular growth in the fortified orange juices that contain additional calcium and vitamins," said Bill Shaner, president of Laneco Inc., which operates supermarkets, department stores and drugstores in the East.
Nationally, orange juice consumption has risen 26% since 1989, says Ivy Leventhal, marketing communications director for the Florida Department of Citrus.
That's no small accomplishment in grocery aisles lined with sodas, sports drinks, dessert-style coffee beverages, flavored iced teas, fruit cocktails and punches.
"Orange juice and fat-free milk are the best beverages you can buy at the supermarket when it comes to nutrition for your drink dollars," said Jane Ziegler, program coordinator at a local college nutrition center.
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest gave 100% orange juice a similar endorsement.
CSPI's Nutrition Action Healthletter stated, "What most people don't realize is that some juices are far more nutritious than others. Orange is by far the best."
The increasing popularity of orange juice and the explosion of types and styles of ready-to-pour forms in the dairy case have come as more and more consumers recognize the health benefits of orange juice and as national manufacturers such as Tropicana-Dole and Minute Maid vie for market share.
Offering orange juice in ready-to-pour cartons, rather than in frozen cans of concentrate, also has juiced up sales. Struggling to combine globs of frozen concentrate with water no longer is necessary, unless a consumer is budget-conscious.
"Every time something positive hits the news about orange juice or vitamin C, sales go up some more," said Mark Laurenti, operator of area ShopRites. "It's a staple on people's shopping lists, and when it goes on sale, consumers really stock up."
One glass of orange juice delivers a day's worth of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps in the fight against certain forms of cancer, including breast cancer, as well as heart disease.
It also fulfills one-fifth of the day's requirement for folic acid, the B vitamin that reduces the risk of birth defects and also may offer some protection against heart disease.
Orange juice also provides more than 10% of a day's potassium (which helps prevent high blood pressure) and thiamine, plus at least 5% of magnesium, copper and vitamins A and B-6.
The juices that followed orange in the CSPI's nutrition rankings were grapefruit, lemon, prune and pineapple juices. Cranberry, which contains a little less than a day's requirement of vitamin C, falls short on other vitamins and minerals.
Grape, apple and pear juices, often added to juice beverages because they're inexpensive, came in near the bottom of the CSPI juice barrel. However, in the time since the Nutrition Action Healthletter article "All Juiced Up!" was printed, a limited study has indicated that pure red grape juice, containing flavonoids, may offer some help in preventing heart disease.
Vegetable juices, although they contain substantial amounts of vitamins A, B-6 and C as well as copper and potassium, generally were too high in sodium to suit CSPI officials. Look for low-sodium types, they advised.
Orange juice comes in a mind-boggling assortment of forms, styles and varieties. The fastest-growing is ready-to-pour orange juice in cartons in the dairy case. Ready-to-pour, either fresh juice that has been pasteurized or juice that has been made from concentrate, is leaving the more traditional frozen concentrate in the freezer.
Although consumers will have to decide the taste questions, nutritionists say there's little difference in the overall nutrition delivered by ready-to-pour juices or frozen concentrate that's reconstituted at home. There are orange juices blended with tangerine and grapefruit juices. There are orange juices fortified with extra vitamin C, calcium and vitamin E.
Nutrition coordinator Ziegler cautioned, however, "Calcium-fortified orange juice is an option for people who can't tolerate milk or dislike its taste. But fat-free milk should be included in the diet because it is fortified with vitamin D, which also is important for bone formation and the prevention of osteoporosis.