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Consumers to feel squeeze as orange juice price hits 16-year high
by Perrine Faye

A carton of orange juice could be set for a steep price rise after wholesale prices of the tropical juice hit 16-year highs last week on fears for the harvest in the US state of Florida.

In New York, where the juice is traded, the price of orange juice for delivery in September reached 1.876 dollars a pound (450 grams) on Thursday, its highest level since July 1990.

"The last two years, the '04 and '05 crops in Florida were ravaged by three hurricanes that reduced production from anywhere between 35-45 percent from where it was running the previous years," said James Cordier, head trader at the Liberty Trading commodities brokerage in Tampa, Florida.

"A hurricane scare (now) would put us well above two dollars. Hurricane damage would send us to 2.20 or 2.30 dollars," he said.

The price of juice has tripled since 2004 when a pound of orange juice cost 60 cents. Since the start of the year, prices have soared by 50 percent.

The driver of higher prices has been concern for growers in Florida, where the vast majority of oranges in the United States are harvested. A series of devastating hurricanes have ripped up orange groves, damaging trees and reducing output.

The United States, which used to be the biggest producer of orange juice in the world, has now been overtaken by Brazil as a result of the loss of productivity in Florida, nicknamed the "Sunshine State".

Analysts warn that supermarkets across the world will be forced to raise prices of their orange juice brands, and market leaders such as Tropicana are also likely to be hit.

The British Soft Drinks Association has forecast that the price of a carton of orange juice could rise by 25 percent this year because of the problems in the US.

The spike in prices to record highs last week was caused by a report from influential Florida-based analyst Elizabath Steger, who estimated that the orange crop in Florida next year would be smaller than expected.

She forecast a harvest of 123 million boxes of 90 pounds (41 kilograms) in 2007, below the 153 million boxes of this year and without taking into account the impact of any further hurricane damage.

Cordier called 123 million boxes "a minuscule crop".

The estimate was below a projection from analysts at Louis Dreyfus who forecast a crop of 160 million boxes and lower than the 151 million boxes predicted by the US ministry of agriculture.

Before the hurricanes last year and in 2004, "we were producing in Florida approximately 220-230 million boxes of oranges each year", said Cordier.

Florida supplies 98 percent of oranges in the US for juicing. Oranges are also grown in Texas and California, but are used for table fruit rather than drinks.

The hurricane season is set to peak at the beginning of September, which could spell further difficulties for growers and higher prices for consumers.

The US national hurricane centre in Miami has warned of another very active hurricane season with as many as four hurricanes expected to hit the US before the end of November.

Source Yahoo NEWS