Flu Sparks Juice Jump

POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 - 2:12pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:25pm

Swine flu fear credited with jump-starting orange juice sales...

H1N1 has been good news for Florida orange growers.

The scare of the flu has orange juice flying off the shelves and the push to buy OJ has citrus growers giddy.

Still, doctors aren't so sure about the juice's effects on the virus.

Lynn and Kevin Shelfer have been nursing oranges all their lives.

"Both of our families have been in the orange business for a long time. My husband's family has been here over 100 years. These groves have been here a long time," said Lynn.

But, Kevin explained, the groves have had better days.

"With canker and citrus greening, it's hard to get a tree to grow anywhere," he said.

And this year, several of those trees that did grow have less fruit because of drought and cooler temperatures, and yet, the Shelfers say sales are up at Joshua Citrus.

Recently, the orange juice industry has launched a whole new series of commercials riding on the fear some people have of the H1N1 virus.

"They want to stock up on Vitamin C or they don't want to get sick. Or if they are sick, they think it'll help them get better sooner," said Lynn.

The couple planned for a dismal season, but now customers from all over the country are loading their arms with juice.

Across the state, orange juice sales have steadily increased for the past seven months.

Futures for January look better than they have in years.

"Yes, it is a sigh of relief," said Kevin.

Physician Shannon Greer says he has seen several patients with H1N1.

He says the claims orange juice makes to protect you may be a stretch.

"Orange juice does contain things like Vitamin C, which can help. But it's kind of like putting premium gas in your car - it might help you get better gas mileage, but it won't give you the immunity boost most people are hoping for," said Greer.

With 74 million citrus trees in Florida, the industry puts $9-billion into Florida's economy annually.

So whether juice offers a cure or not, the scare of H1N1 tastes sweet for the Sunshine State.

"It was in the back of my mind that it would help sales, but I didn't jump for joy that there's a flu going around," said Kevin Shelfer.

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