Orange juice is suddenly hot.
In the commodity markets, frozen concentrate orange juice futures have soared 25% — just in the past month. (Yes, you're thinking of the comedy Trading Places.)
"People understand that orange juice is a great source of vitamin C and clearly vitamin C boosts your immune system," said Andrew Meadows, director of communications at Florida Citrus Mutual, a growers' trade group. "We're now in a time where people want to have a strong immune system. I think that's what's happening."
That's even though there's no evidence that vitamin C is effective against the coronavirus. But industry officials say that people looking to increase their vitamin C intake have been boosting OJ sales.
Sales jumped nearly 10% in the four weeks that ended March 14 compared with a year earlier, according to Nielsen data provided by the Florida Department of Citrus. Frozen OJ sales soared 27%. That's a big turnaround from the prior report for February, which showed overall OJ sales down 2% and frozen juice down 1.3%.
And demand is outpacing the supply, said Marisa Zansler, director of economic and market research at the Florida Department of Citrus.
"The unforeseen and significant increase in the demand for orange juice exceeded the current supply of orange juice on the U.S. market in recent weeks," Zansler said in an email. "The rise in the futures price is certainly indicative of the higher cost to supply the sudden spike in demand."
Meadows emphasized that the industry has not been marketing around the coronavirus.
"We're not trying to capitalize on this," he said. "We wouldn't do that. ... But it is beneficial to us, it is heartening to us that people still understand that orange juice is a great source of vitamin C."
The good news for growers comes at a challenging time for the citrus industry. Florida growers have been battling citrus greening, canker and other plant diseases for years. And orange juice has been squeezed by competition from sports and energy drinks, bottled water and exotic juice blends, Meadows said.