From the grove to the glass: how orange juice gets to your table - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

From the grove to the glass: how orange juice gets to your table

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BRADENTON (FOX 13) -

The bottle has just one ingredient, so you'd think the process would be simple.

However, making everyday orange juice requires an army of people, acres of machinery, and a lot of time.

Tropicana opened the doors to its sprawling Bradenton plant to let us have a look.

"It's a very hands-on process," said Mitch Willis, a Tropicana citrus buyer.

Bottles are filed at NASCAR pace. Mike Haycock, the veteran plant manager, said the facility fills 600,000 59oz. bottles per day – every day.

Haycock said the plant's juicers, ironically made by a company called Brown, operate much the same as home juicers.

"Our process isn't that much different," he said. "It's just that we do it 42 million times a day."

Every single orange arrives on a tractor trailer truck. A fully loaded big rig contains 120,000 oranges.

Roger Hernandez greets 350 semis a day. As he does, a hydraulic lift hoists one end of the trailer into the air. A hidden force does the work.

"It's gravity," Hernandez said.

Manufacturing chief Bill Poulton smiles as the oranges cascade.

"It's the most efficient way to move oranges," he said. "They're round, so they roll."

Poulton explains an oddity: Florida orange juice is golden orange, without fail. Yet, many of the oranges in the citrus avalanche are green.

"Juice fruit grows differently," he said. "Even though it's green, it's identical on the inside."

Much of the fruit comes from groves due east of this mechanical metropolis.

"It's very quiet," said citrus farmer Steve Johnson. "It's heaven to me."

Juices flows through Johnson's veins.

"I'm fourth generation," he says.

Johnson's groves glow with a colorful mix of fully developed orange and green spheres. In between them are tiny blossoms, shimmering white.

"The trees a blooming now," he said. "They've got a little fruit on them."

He said it can take a year for an orange to become ready for juicing. The challenge is picking it at the right time.

For a sample, he pulls one off the tree and tastes it right there in the field.

"The better quality it is, the better we get paid," he said.

Willis, the buyer, is in the grove today. He said Tropicana begins choosing its suppliers as much as 12 months in advance.

"We're already looking at next year today," he said.

Willis said the company's main goal is achieving a perfect balance between sweet and tangy.

"Right in the middle," he said. "And every grove has its day."

If Willis approves of it, the oranges race west about 30 minutes to Bradenton. They'll be on the lot no longer than eight hours and on shelves within eight days.

Tropicana juice makes tracks by rail. Five times weekly, the Tropicana Juice train rolls for Jersey City, New Jersey; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Los Angeles, California.

On a recent Friday the train included 31 fully-loaded, fully-refrigerated cars.

Tropicana rail chief Chris Haynes said each car is remotely tracked. And each air conditioner is monitored by satellite.

"It is real time," he said. "If we see a unit go down, we're able to respond to that."

Haynes said the rail cars, emblazoned with a Tropicana logo as a large as a billboard are iconic.

"This is a big part of Tropicana's heritage," Haynes said. "It's an honor to be part of it."

TROPICANA O.J. BY THE NUMBERS

- 600,000 bottles filled each day

- 16 oranges per 59 oz. bottle

- 350 tractor trailers unloaded daily

- 285 acres at Bradenton plant

- 100 Florida juice content (by percentage)

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