Could you start the day without OJ?

Woman drinking juice

Orange juice with breakfast is a daily ritual for many. But with global prices rising, and safety concerns around juice from Brazil, should we start the day without OJ?

It is the classic start-the-day drink. A glass of cold, and very orange, juice with breakfast.

People drink it because it tastes good. And because it is easy to consume and provides goodness as one of our "five a day", says Bridget Benelam, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation.

The drink is also relatively common, cheap and easy to obtain.

But orange juice's status as a hugely popular breakfast drink is being challenged.

Image caption Many people have orange juice with breakfast to get one of their "five-a-day"

Price shifts

Firstly, it may become more expensive.

This week, the price of orange juice concentrate on the global market hit a record high, reaching $2.12 (£1.38) a pound (0.45kg).

Safety concerns about juice from Brazil, the world's largest producer of orange juice, is one reason for this, traders say.

Most of the orange juice bought in Europe and the US is created from Brazilian oranges - which are harvested and squeezed there.

But carbendazim, a fungicide, has recently been found in US shipments from Brazil, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Though that uncertainty may have caused prices to go up, carbendazim use is approved in Brazil, and officials say it is not a reason to stop drinking orange juice.

"Carbendazim has approved uses in the EU and certain levels of residues are permitted in oranges," adds a spokesperson for the UK Food Standards Agency.

"On the information available to us at this time, the levels of carbendazim reported as being detected in orange juice imported into the US from Brazil would not be a concern."

Prices of orange juice have also risen due to cold weather in Florida, another major exporter of oranges and concentrate.

Florida suffers from cold snaps that can reduce the growing season and orange crop, limiting supply of fruit, says Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What you don't know about orange juice.

"It's cheaper to grow and process oranges in Brazil than anywhere else, and pesticide regulations are not the same as they are in the US," she says.

These issues may not directly affect prices or orange juice in the shops. But packaging and transportation costs are also increasing, and orange juice producers may eventually pass price hikes on, experts say.

Premium taste

Generally, people don't seem to mind paying more for their juice, as there has been a shift towards people drinking "premium" fruit juices.

"People seem to accept that chilled juice just tastes better and are prepared to pay for that," says Richard Laming, a spokesperson for the British Soft Drinks Association (BDSA).

In 2000, when 750m litres were bought in the UK, non-refridgerated juice sold in cartons had 76% of the total fruit juice market, and chilled "premium" orange juice, which costs more, had 24%.

But by 2010, overall sales of orange juice had dropped to 650m litres, and 54% of the total fruit juice market, while sales of the chilled variety had gone up to 55%.

Whether we can actually taste the difference between cheaper and more expensive juices is another matter.

Consumer group Which? carried out a survey of leading brands of standard chilled orange juice with bits. Sixty people tested the products and rate them on taste, texture, aroma and appearance.

Aldi and Co-op juices fared the best, followed by well-known brand Tropicana and a juice from supermarket Lidl.

"What this survey showed really was the most expensive ones aren't always the best. You don't always get more if you pay more," says Hazel Cottrell, a researcher for Which?.

Alissa Hamilton says consumers "are often really surprised as they think they are getting a fresh product, but it really isn't".

She says an industry has sprung up producing orange juice "flavour packs".

Essential oils and orange essence are removed during the squeezing process, then chemically processed and sold back to juice companies, who add the flavours back to the juice when it is packaged.

Aside from taste, drinkers look for other things too when choosing orange juice - they prefer juice that is more orangish is colour, than reddish or yellowish, a study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies found.

So rising prices may not put people off.

However, orange juice's popular status is undergoing other challenges, beyond price.

Our tastes are also changing.

"One of the things we've seen in the last 10 years is that 100% orange juice is losing market share, as people are trying blends like apple and mango," says Mr Laming.

"Consumers are willing to spend more money on more exotic fruit juice."

But orange juice will be hard to displace completely.

"We associate it with health benefits. Nutrition-wise we think of vitamin C, and the high folate we can get," says Bridget Benelam.

"Sometimes people don't want to deal with fruit and veg - and so they will go for orange juice instead."

People wanting to move away from orange juice could try grapefruit juice, which nutritionally has similar properties, she says.

Or they could eat a whole orange instead, which has slightly more vitamin C and calcium per 100g than 100ml of juice does.

This is something Alissa Hamilton backs. "Advertising (in the US) has become more aggressive in terms of promoting the myth that this is a simple, pure, straightforward product," she says.

"It's a myth it's an essential part of breakfast - a whole orange has more vitamin C, and more fibre than a processed product."

But it will be hard for many not to start the day without a glass of OJ.

As well as being a good source of vitamin C and folate, orange juice is the top dietary source of phytonutrients beta-cryptoxanthin (a compound which provides vitamin A), and hespertin (a cholesterol-lowering flavonoid) for adults in the US, according to research by the American Dietetic Association.

"It's a traditional thing that we now particularly associate with breakfast," adds Bridget Benelam, whether that's juice from concentrate, or freshly squeezed at home.

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