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Why is Fresh O.J. So Expensive in L.A.?

Hey 'Hounds - I have a serious question, maybe it belongs on another board . . . I hope you can help me figure something out - I just returned from a NYC visit where fresh squeezed OJ is around $4.50 for a 1/2 gallon. What gives? Why are we paying almost $8 bucks here in Southern California? There has to be a reason, and for the life of me I can't figure out what it might be. We have an Orange County for Pete's sake! Shouldn't reasonably priced OJ be one of our birth rights? Do I have to write to the mayor? Maybe it's just me, but this sticks in my craw (and at almost $8 per 1/2 gallon at Ralph's Downtown I guess I'll be trying to wash it down with some other beverage . . . )

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  1. Try the unpasteurized OJ at Fresh & Easy. Good as fresh squeezed and reasonably priced.

    3 Replies
    1. re: darrenk

      Where are these Fresh & Easy stores?? never heard of them before

      1. re: darrenk

        Picked up a half-gallon today at F&E and it was $4.99. Just MAKE SURE you get the unpasteurized stuff, the taste is SO MUCH BETTER! They sell both and the containers look similar.

        Good strawberry lemonade too!

      2. You wanna know why fresh squeezed OJ costs so much here in LA??? I'll tell you why, its cause they import the freakin oranges from Florida, thats why. I can never understand why the growers export most of the oranges elsewhere when they are grown right here, it just boggles the mind.

        3 Replies
        1. re: manolid1

          That does not explain the difference between LA and NYC. If they both import from Florida, then why is the LA price twice that of NYC?

          1. re: PeterL

            LA is twice as far from FL as NYC?

            I'd love to know where the OP is finding fresh OJ for $4.50 here, when my local supermarket charges $7.99 for Tropicana.

          2. re: manolid1

            They import them from Florida because Florida grows juicing oranges. California grows eating oranges.

          3. P.S. wash down your craw when Ralph's has gallon milk on sale for $2 bucks a gallon rofl

            1. Are you serious about the juice being from Florida? If so, that is one possible explanation - NYC is closer than L.A. When I was a production assistant, I was delivering a package to Atlantic Records and while waiting for Mr. Bigshot I got into a conversation with a pretty old security guard who told me that, when he grew up here in L.A., his family used to encounter pitchers of free orange juice put on tables when they ate out - like we might see water today (although I seem to have to ask for even that, now, at most places). I'm going to look into the Florida answer and keep checking back for other explanations . . .

              5 Replies
              1. re: Pigeage

                manolid1 is absolutely correct. CA oranges look better on supermarket shelves, so CA oranges are consumed as fresh fruit or exported. FL oranges look ugly so after they start to specialize in breeding oranges for juicing. Maybe doesn't make any sense for you and me, but it surely makes sense for the economics of the growers.

                1. re: Pigeage

                  That does not explain it. The difference in shipping costs from FL to NY and CA is minimal.

                  1. re: mrfood16

                    When was the last time you saw an orange grove in Orange County? That's ancient history...we now have urbanization and *ta-da*...Disneyland! As in a similar case like Hawaii for pineapples and sugarcane, land is way too expensive for just agriculture. Drink beer, it's probably cheaper?

                  2. re: Pigeage

                    And of all the silly things in the world, they sell Californian oranges in Florida!

                    1. re: Kajikit

                      I love california navels. If I lived in Florida, I would buy them up like crazy when they were in season. If you have a decent fruit store, there's a chance that they will have both Ca and Fla navels late winter/early spring. get a few of each. Peel and eat and note the difference. If you are cutting them and /or only eating the flesh, there is not a huge difference. For peel and eat, however, Ca oranges are hands down the best

                  3. I don't think you're comparing proper oranges to oranges.

                    I usually pay $5 for a very small glass of freshly squeezed OJ in NYC diners and find that the prices for fresh squeezed OJ is much more reasonable here in LA, though obviously not as cheap or as good as freshly squeezed OJ in FL.

                    Maybe if you compare the cheapest fresh squeezed OJ in NYC compared to the most expensive brand at Ralph's downtown. Otherwise, I have found prices in LA to be more favorable than those in NYC.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Porthos

                      The California orange crop is perhaps 3.5 X's smaller than the Florida orange crop - so prices are going to be higher seeing as how a significant % of the California orange crop is exported to other states.

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Hi Porthos - "Oranges to Oranges" - Ha, nice one. Actually, I have compared prices for 1/2 gallons at three locations in Manhattan: Zabars on the Upper West Side (always $4 and change over past year), Dean & Deluca, Soho (Debit & Loss), and Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center to three locations in L.A.: the aforementioned Fresh Faire Ralph's downtown L.A., the fresh squeezed from the Farmer's Market 3rd & Fairfax, and the Whole Foods on Wilshire in Santa Monica. In each case, NYC is cheaper by far - by almost 1/2. I thing Servog (post below) has the right answer - it still sucks, however, and really bothers me and I think we are getting gouged. Makes me want to have a screwdriver and forget the whole thing. As W.C. Fields said to the P.A. who handed him his O.J. (which was supposed to be spiked but wasn't) "Who put orange juice in my orange juice?!"

                      2. It's most likely for the same reason Washington State(apple growers) has higher apple juice/apple prices than California.
                        Not only are the prices higher but the quality of the apple in Washington State is inferior to what I purchase in LA.
                        The bottom line...the highest quality of oranges is exported and, in the case of orange juice, I believe there is a huge import of oranges from Florida into California and therefore the huge markup.

                        1. Juice oranges are grown in Florida. Eating oranges are grown in Cali. The cost is more because the transport cost is more.

                          Looks are not the only reason that the Cali oranges are "on the shelf" they peel MUCH better and the inner membrane is not as thick. The Fla oranges, I believe, have to have heartier skins to survive. Fla sells navel oranges also, but they are not nearly as good as the Cali ones. I bet you would be paying a lot more than you think if your cartons of OJ were coming from Cali oranges.

                          P.s. quit complaining. You get 80 degrees and sunny in January. Nobody has any sympathy for your OJ woes!

                          6 Replies
                            1. re: gordeaux

                              Around Cali we raise juice oranges. I grew up in California where we had an orange farm - Valencias and Navals for eating.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Lol - Sorry again, Sam F.


                                Unless "Ca." is an abbr that can also be applied to Cali. I'll just longhand it from now on.

                                1. re: gordeaux

                                  Thanks, gordeaux. Funny thing, my churlishness stems less from living in Cali and more from being originally from California.

                                2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Most oranges in Florida are destined for the juice trade. Appearance is almost irrelevant. The primary consideration is sugar content, and it is this percentage that dictates the price the growers get from the producers. I believe all the major packaged juice oranges are completely smashed, skins and all. I cannot remember the processes now, but labels like 'pure' are slightly misleading.

                                  I used to get freshly squeezed orange juice from Cuban restaurants in Miami. Some of them had this glass sided machine where oranges were dropped in the top and you could see the juice being extracted. Very Willie Wonkerish.

                                  1. re: Paulustrious

                                    See my note below. that is the machine they have at my la14 here in Cali. Really, really good.

                              2. Not sure what accounts for the price disparity of OJ here and there, but it doesn't really have to do with oranges from FL or CA, since most oranges for those carton juices (including the so-called "not from concentrate") are from Brazil or elsewhere. I was a avid OJ drinker until I heard about the book _Squeezed_ which exposes what goes into the production of commercial OJ.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: E Eto

                                  Actually I was wondering what people considered to be fresh squeezed. Here in Cali at la14, they have a big juicer machine and bottler where two liters sell for about $4.00. The lable advises consumption within 36 hours. It is literally fresh squeezed.

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    Hi Sam, those juicers used to be commonplace in local supermarkets' produce departments in LA as well. I don't know where they've all gone - I'm guessing something to do with LA Health dept issues or something in that realm - but they were extremely popular with customers, the little Jewish ladies in particular. They'd see the produce guys filling the plastic bottles with the freshly squeezed juice, cap them, lay them on ice, then demand, "I want some fresh orange juice!"

                                    "Maam, these bottles are fresh - I just poured them from the juicer seconds ago."

                                    "I don't want those - I want really fresh - I want to watch you put a fresh batch of oranges in the machine and pour me a new bottle!"

                                    I've found the downside of those juicing machines is that unless the oranges are examined before they're dumped from the cases into the hopper, a molded orange inevitably finds its way into the juicer. Another point is the juice tends to have a higher amount of oils from the skins being pressed during the juicing process. And the juicer should be cleaned daily. It's amazing how much crud builds up in those machines, particularly the actual juicing press.

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      bulavinaka, I've watched the employees make the juice (they work at it throughout the day). One person takes an orange out of the crate, looks at it, and tosses it in the hopper. One at a time. The staff are pretty careful with cleaning. And I like getting a bottle that is a half hour squeezed - so I can pick one that has more pulp.

                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        That is cool - maybe if the produce guys here in LA took such great care, we'd still have the juicers here as well - or maybe they just got tired of being hassled by the little old ladies. :)

                                      2. re: bulavinaka

                                        I was going to say, they were common in Northern California, too - they were everywhere up at least through the '80s, but they've all been long gone for a while. I wonder if there was a company or companies that brought them in and maintained them, supplied the bottles, etc., and that business model just died.

                                  2. Okay, pardon the cluelessness, but are you talking about OJ that's squeezed to order, or just cartons of juice that's not from concentrate?

                                    If the former, I got nothin'. If the latter, check Costco - here in NorCal you pay about $2.50 for a half gallon for Tropicana.

                                    1. I doubt the explanation is transportation cost, which can't be more than .30-.40 a carton more than, say, to NYC (juice is shipped to both markets by dedicated rail). It's probably "market factors," meaning that's just the way it is, like gasoline also costs more in California due to "market factors," not taxes as you thought (total gas tax in California is about .60 per gal, while in most states it's more like .40, so that doesn't explain the typical spread--it's "market factors.")

                                      Remember, some of the juice comes from Brazil anyway. In fact, Brazil is by far the world's largest exporter of orange juice, and most of their markets are a long way away--they couldn't do that if transport were so expensive (admittedly most of that juice travels in bulk form as concentrate which is cheaper--a lot of it goes to Minute Maid).

                                      I think the main reason orange juice in California comes from Florida is because the climate in California is more hospitable to table orange varieties (less juice) while Florida's climate is more hospitable to juice oranges. Perhaps the fact that Florida gets lots of rain and California doesn't is a factor, but I'm not a horticulturist. In any case, the result is Californians buy Florida juice while Floridians buy California table oranges. One of the miracles of modern logistics.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: johnb

                                        I thought that this thread was about fresh squeezed orange juice.

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          My fresh-squeezed OJ is juice that I (hold your breath) squeeze in my own kitchen. What else could it possibly be?

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Strictly speaking, yes, but there was a great deal of talk about grocery store boxed juice along the way, so that's what I got focused on. To confine ourselves to fresh-squeezed juice only, then the answer to the OP would still be roughly the same, namely, California grows mostly table oranges and Florida grows mostly juice oranges. If you did try to use California oranges for juice, you would have to use a lot of them and that would lead to a high price. If you use Florida ones, which is more likely I suspect, then you have to ship fresh oranges, probably by refer truck not rail, to California. Now you have entered a different world of transportation, and the cost of the final product will probably reflect this. However, my gut feel is that "market factors" will still play a material role in the price spread, in other words, it is priced higher because those few places that sell it can get away with charging more, pure and simple.

                                            Can anyone clarify the origin of oranges that are being used for fresh-squeezed juice in California? Assuming they are from Florida, then a quick check of prices for Florida oranges at wholesale in California should help shed light on whether it really is transport cost or something else at the retail level is also involved in making the juice more expensive than in NYC, which goes to the OP's question.

                                            Bottom line--the mere fact that California grows oranges is not a reliable basis to conclude that orange juice sold in California, boxed or fresh-sqeezed, will be from California oranges, nor that it will be as cheap or cheaper than in NYC. The real world works in more complicated ways than that.

                                            1. re: johnb

                                              A couple of major influences on the supply of oranges from SoCal might be this. I don't know the statistics, but just observing or reading story after story about how given areas that were once used for growing citrus that are now places like amusement parks, universities, malls, etc, I can easily say that the once-enormous citrus industry in California is only a fraction of what it once was here in SoCal. Vast sections of the San Fernando Valley and Orange County that used to be covered by citrus groves - mainly oranges - are now gone, save a few small groves at universities or individual trees spared in residential areas. Outlying areas in San Diego, San Bernadino, as well as Ventura and Santa Barbara counties still have substantial citrus crops, but as others have mentioned, this is mostly table fruit for local consumption as well as for export.

                                              Water is also a major issue in SoCal. Particularly during periods of drought which are exacerbated by the huge population grown over the past forty years, water allocation and pricing have gone in opposite directions to farmers. I believe farming still constitutes the highest percentage use of water in California, but the drought conditions over the past few years has forced major cutbacks to farmers.

                                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                                I'm sure you're right. It's interesting to note, as well, that the same things are said about Florida, particularly the loss of orange groves to development (the name Disney seems to invariably come up in both the California and Florida discussions). I think it's a sure bet that over time, because of development, hurricanes, and greater competition for water, a greater and greater portion of the OJ and oranges consumed in the US will come from Brazil and Mexico.

                                                1. re: johnb

                                                  Oranges are huge as a global commodity - we only need to look on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to see that. Any country that has the right conditions to grow oranges en masse does so because it is always in demand. I was in Belize back in the 80s, and as beautiful as that little country was and hope still is, orange groves carpeted agricultural areas throughout the country.

                                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                                    Interesting. I too spent time in Belize in the 80's, working not vacationing. There were indeed orange trees everywhere, but IIRC the only commercial operation was a coop in a town the name of which I forget, on the Hummingbird Hy. down toward Stann Creek. They were doing concentrate and exporting it, and wanted a better port facility so they could ship it in bulk in barges. I have no idea whether the operation still exists.

                                                    1. re: johnb

                                                      Another huge boost to the Belize citrus industry (and I'm sure everywhere else that citrus is grown and processed), is the advent of citrus-based cleaners and solvents. I recall reading an article in the 90s about how Belize saw this as a windfall for something they had to pay to have hawled off. The once worthless peels hold that amazing citrus oil that cuts through just about anything. And who knows - maybe the remaining waste will one day be used for creating bio-fuel, if it isn't already in the works.

                                              2. re: johnb

                                                California produces Navals for eating and Valencias for juice. We grew both on the (extended) family farm in Central California.

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  That's true, but Florida's total production of processed (juice) oranges is vastly greater than California's. According to some USDA data I found, in 2003-4 California produced 6 million boxes of processed oranges, while Florida produced 232 million (and Florida's boxes weigh more). The following year Florida fell way back (due to hurricane?) but still outproduced California by more than 10 to 1. I think these wild fluctuations in Florida's production, BTW, go a long way to explaining why we are importing so much more Brazilian juice in recent years.

                                                  If you're interested, click the link below, then go to the bottom (Sources) and click the second item in the list.


                                                  1. re: johnb

                                                    As much as hurricanes affect Florida's citrus crops, the frost during the winter can be as or even more damaging...