ORLANDO, Fla. -- Orange juice is still in the spotlight here as controversy continues to swirl over the Florida Citrus Commission's choice to advertise on the Rush Limbaugh radio talk show, which has an estimated 15 million listeners.
The controversy began when gay and lesbian groups and the National Organization of Women, among others, called on consumers last month to boycott Florida orange juice and encourage the Lakeland, Fla.-based commission to stop advertising on the program. Limbaugh fans countered with their own action: a rush to buy orange juice. Late last month, some 30 fans here staged a buyout at a local citrus store, the Orange Blossom Indian River Citrus Market. Each customer bought twice as much as they usually buy, and for one customer that meant hauling home 10 gallons of juice.
The commission has received more than 7,500 calls about the controversy, most against the ad campaign. The commission said they are only buying ad time on the Limbaugh show, and not using the popular talk show host as their spokesman.
"Why does what Florida orange juice does with its advertising attract so much attention?" asked Ivy Leventhal, public relations director at the commission, referring to past controversial spokespeople, such as Anita Bryant and Burt Reynolds. The commission said it does not intend to pull Limbaugh's contract, which is good until mid-August. "We're just trying to sell orange juice," Leventhal said. The commission does not yet know if the controversy has impacted sales in Florida.
Supermarket companies contacted by SN said the issue has not affected their sales. "We would have to have a lot of participation to see a change," said Larry Beck, marketing director for the Orlando division of Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla. On March 12 five members of the National Organization for Women staged a demonstration at a Kash n' Karry Food Store in Tampa, Fla., to boycott orange juice. About 200 other people who support Limbaugh showed up to "buycott" the juice. One man bought 500 half-gallons of juice and donated it to charity. At the Orange Blossom Indian River Citrus Market, one customer who supports Limbaugh said her family is starting to drink orange juice instead of Coke.
"We want to do for orange juice what Rush Limbaugh has done for Snapple," said Ron Calfe, head of the Unofficial Rush Limbaugh Appreciation Society based here. He is referring to the increase in demand for Snapple stock after the beverage company began advertising on Limbaugh's show.
Calfe's group plans to stage more "buycotts" in the near future. The group said in a statement that it "hopes to see Florida orange juice sales move to an all-time high."
Lloyd Warren, manager of the Orange Blossom Market, said he has a lot of new customers thanks to the controversy, which is receiving extensive coverage in Florida's print and broadcast media.