NO SQUEEZE ON ORANGE JUICE SUPPLY

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Projected crop estimates for Florida oranges are down slightly, but the state should be able to fulfill record-breaking demand for orange juice in the coming year, according to a state official here."There should be sufficient supply of orange juice in the coming year, and it should continue to be a good value to the consumer," said Dan Santangelo, executive director of the Florida

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Projected crop estimates for Florida oranges are down slightly, but the state should be able to fulfill record-breaking demand for orange juice in the coming year, according to a state official here.

"There should be sufficient supply of orange juice in the coming year, and it should continue to be a good value to the consumer," said Dan Santangelo, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.

The 1995-96 orange crop is estimated at 202 million boxes, down about 2% from last season's crop, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About 90% of Florida's orange crop is made into orange juice, citrus department officials said.

The USDA estimates come on the heels of record-breaking orange juice sales at the consumer level, said Santangelo.

During the month of August, consumers bought 56.1 million gallons of orange juice, up 3.4% from August 1994. That is an all-time high for orange juice sales, said Santangelo.

He credited increased sales to a new marketing campaign by the citrus department. That campaign, which was launched about a year and a half ago, concentrates on the healthy aspects of orange juice.

"The campaign focuses on the positive health benefits related to cancer, heart disease and recent work on birth defects, which is all part of a diet of high fiber, low fat," he said. "We're real encouraged by the research we've seen on the health, nutrition and well-being." Meanwhile, grapefruit juice sales are becoming increasingly important domestically, as more not-from-concentrate grapefruit juice comes onto the market, he said.

"We've seen some rebounding on grapefruit juice sales," he said. This season's Florida grapefruit crop is estimated at 54 million boxes, down about 3% from last season, according to the citrus department. The citrus department is testing a number of grapefruit juice promotional ideas for retailers, as well as for consumers, he said.

Overall, the Florida citrus crop is estimated to be about 265 million boxes, which is a decrease of 2% from the 270 million boxes of the prior year, according to the USDA.

Americans now drink more orange juice per capita than people in any other country; that leaves Europe and Japan as the next big marketing targets for Florida citrus, he said. "The biggest increase we're going to see on a percentage basis, and maybe on a tonnage basis, is in the overseas markets," he said. The quality of orange juice has increased dramatically in Europe over the last several years, which has led to increased demand there, he said.

"We've had significant increases in exports to Europe and Japan, something like 25% to 30% increases," he said. "We're real excited about the overseas opportunities for Florida."

The citrus department plans to look into increasing marketing opportunities overseas, he said.