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Orange Juice Squeezed by Manatees?

A good way to start your day: with a glass of orange juice and a dose of happy news. This morning, word came across the transom that Fort Pierce company Natalie's Orchid Island Juice scored a win "in the David versus Goliath battle for dominance over America's breakfast table."

The family-owned, female-fronted outfit "stunned the giants of the citrus juice industry" when it was deemed to have the Best-Tasting Orange Juice in the June issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. (Take that, Tropicana!) GH writers said that, in a taste test of 12 OJs, Natalie's "trounced the competition with its 'fresh-squeezed' taste and 'just the right amount of pulp.'"  

What's the secret? John Martinelli, the company's executive vice president, says it's due to the "little elves" who come and squeeze the oranges at night.

"We were going to have manatees squeeze them, but we knew they were so protected, that would be a big black eye on our company" if they put the creatures to work, he jokes. But all kidding aside, Martinelli says, "We outgrew the elves, and we now use industrial-strength machines to squeeze the juice."

But, he adds, there is a key distinction between Natalie's Orchid Island and the giant orange-juice companies. "We squeeze

the orange less violently than [the big companies]," Martinelli says -- and that means Natalie's juice has none of the yucky taste from the peel. "Our juice is actually coaxed out of the orange. We don't smash it out of the orange

like other guys."

Ah, those other guys -- they are a source of contempt. "It's

amazing who owns the juice aisle!" Martinelli exclaims. "The big players who lord over small companies!" Tropicana? It's owned by Pepsi, he says. Simply Orange? Belongs to Minute Maid, which belongs to Coke (even though its website would lead you to believe it's just a hokey little company in Apopka). Odwalla? Also Coke. But those big oligopolies use imported orange juice from far-flung locales like Costa Rica and Mexico, Martinelli says, whereas Natalie's Orchid Island buys fresh oranges only from Florida growers.

Dig these numbers:
-- Natalie's uses 24 truckloads of fruit per week.
-- That's 1.08 million pounds of fruit per week.
-- Multiply it by 52 weeks in a year and that = 56 million

pounds of oranges a year!

"We're proud of America and proud of our local growers," Martinelli says. "They maintain a strong commitment to farming -- despite water restrictions,

despite urbanization, despite diseases out the ying-yang! [canker, greening, etc.] It's a battle every single day."  Natalie's Orchid Island has a small carbon footprint, he adds, while those other guys "have a carbon footprint that won't quit."

Natalie's Orchid Island OJ can be found in your local grocery store juice cooler.

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Deirdra Funcheon

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