Comment - Soft Drinks & Water - Juice Prices: Welcome Back, Randolph and Mortimer?
The case of rising commodity prices is a well-worn groove in our industry. For the juice category, however, prices haven't been rising, so much as sky-rocketing of late. Like all other sectors, juice producers are looking to the emerging markets to save their breakfast bacon, to go with their breakfast juice. Richard Corbett knows of two chaps who will be rubbing their hands with juicy glee.
It was the plunging price of frozen orange-juice futures contracts that ruined Randolph and Mortimer Duke in the classic 80’s film Trading Places. Today, orange concentrate prices are going in the other direction and are at a four-year high. The price rise can be traced to a downgrade in the forecast for the key Florida harvest, but underpinning this is an upward price trend prompted by falling production in Florida and rising production costs in the other key orange producer, Brazil. According to beverage pundits Canadean, around 45% of juice drunk around the world is orange and rising prices could have implications for the longer term fortunes of the juice category.
Sadly, rising prices are not just limited to orange products: It has been a bit chilly in the apple production powerhouses of China and Poland and that has pushed up apple concentrate prices. Apple juice accounts for 17% of juice demand, so that means that, combined with orange, nearly two thirds of the juice market will see strong upward pricing pressures.
Inevitably, this will have a knock-on effect for juice consumption. In many markets, including the world's biggest juice market, the US, drinkers have shifted to apple juice at breakfast in response to the high orange prices of recent times.
What will they do now?
Consumers have a choice as prices rise - they can compromise on quality and drink lower grade juice, or they can opt to substitute their juice for nectar products or even the lower juice content products found in the still drinks category. If you go into any hard discount store in Europe and look on the shelves of the juice aisle, you'll see a plethora of nectar products that are sold as a lower cost alternative to juice.
Juice suppliers will have to be innovative with their flavours and we will be seeing more blended products that capitalise on blending orange with juices that have not been as badly affected by price rises.
The top end of the juice market is increasingly becoming deluxe, and it is a situation that looks likely to continue even when harvests improve in the short term. Demand in the more prosperous parts of the world may have matured but, in developing markets, consumers are developing more sophisticated tastes and volumes are on the up.
Historically, in many of these developing markets, the juice is constrained by the availability of freshly squeezed fruit on the street which competes with packaged juices and, if truth be told, often tastes better. Consequently, per capita consumption remains very low. The Chinese drink just 0.3 litres each annually, a level that will rise in line with the number of domestic fridges and as the modern retail channel (supermarkets) becomes more developed.
The situation is compounded by the fact that, in Florida, orange production is on a downward curve as trees age and tightening margins have incentivised growers into other activities. According to Agrimoney.com, the Florida Department of Citrus officials have forecast a drop of a further 30% in the state's orange output by 2017-18. Of course, sustained higher prices will attract more growers into the industry and at some point this may well correct itself.
The effect of high concentrate prices is amplified by the fact that, unless you are in a fruit production heartland, the juice you trade will have to be imported and, with spiraling oil prices, transportation costs will have soared as well. These costs will also be reflected in packaging costs, particularly if you sell your juice in a PET container.
Long faces are not just limited to stakeholders in the juice category; many soft drinks have some juice content and will be affected. To kick you when you are down, a drop in the Brazilian output of sugar has triggered a jump in sugar prices. Operators can either pass on these rises to their consumers, with repercussions for sales, or they can absorb the increases with implications for their margins. At the moment, it appears to be a bit of both.
These are difficult times for the soft drinks industry - rising costs have come at just the wrong time. In the developed world, where juice per capita levels are static or falling, opportunities used to exist to encourage consumers to upgrade to better quality juices, to ensure value was still rising even if volume wasn’t. These sort of super-premium juices will become more and more of a luxury, and their daily consumption at breakfast is likely to be too extravagant for many households in today’s economic climate.
The problem with juice from a consumer’s perspective is that, once you become accustomed to drinking good quality juice, it is quite a step back to less premium offerings.
At least those old rogues Randolph and Mortimer will be pleased though.
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