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Tropicana Orange Juice, Flavor Packs, and the Food Industry

May 19, 2010
100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice + Flavor Packs

100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice + Other Chemicals

There is something delicious about a glass of Tropicana orange juice– it always tastes so sweet, and so perfect, and so, well, so perfect. No matter where you are in the world, it always tastes the same. Hmmmmm…. I had always wondered how they managed to achieve that– but I just chalked it up to modern transportation. I guess if I had really thought about it, I would have realized that it wouldn’t make any sense to airfreight orange juice around the world, but I have to say that I didn’t think much about it. I just assumed that somehow, they made it work.

After all, the label was pretty clear about what was inside the carton: 100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice. Not from concentrate. That doesn’t leave much room for anything else. Or so you would think.

Well, it turns out that our tasty glass of Tropicana orange juice is not all that it appears to be. Alissa Hamilton let the cat out of the bag with her book, Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.

What they don’t tell us on the carton is that Tropicana actually uses “flavor packs” in its “100% pure squeezed orange juice” in order to achieve its consistently yummy taste.

The Making of OJ and Flavor Packs

Making OJ should be pretty simple. Pick oranges. Squeeze them. Put the juice in a carton and voilà!

But actually, there is an important stage in between that is an open secret in the OJ industry. After the oranges are squeezed, the juice is stored in giant holding tanks and, critically, the oxygen is removed from them. That essentially allows the liquid to keep (for up to a year) without spoiling– but that liquid that we think of as orange juice tastes nothing like the Tropicana OJ that comes out of the carton. To bring the flavor back in, the company adds “flavor packs“:

When the juice is stripped of oxygen it is also stripped of flavor providing chemicals. Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren’t listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor. Mexicans and Brazilians have a different palate. Flavor packs fabricated for juice geared to these markets therefore highlight different chemicals, the decanals say, or terpene compounds such as valencine.

What about that distinctive Tropicana taste?

Well, it turns out that it is entirely engineered. It tastes more or less the same around the world because it’s chemically created.

The formulas vary to give a brand’s trademark taste. If you’re discerning you may have noticed Minute Maid has a candy like orange flavor. That’s largely due to the flavor pack Coca-Cola has chosen for it. Some companies have even been known to request a flavor pack that mimics the taste of a popular competitor, creating a “hall of mirrors” of flavor packs. Despite the multiple interpretations of a freshly squeezed orange on the market, most flavor packs have a shared source of inspiration: a Florida Valencia orange in spring.

Why does it cost more?

So if “Not from concentrate” OJ isn’t a superior product, then why is it more expensive? Alissa gives an answer here for Civil Eats.

In fact, “not from concentrate,” a.k.a pasteurized orange juice, is not more expensive than “from concentrate” because it is closer to fresh squeezed. Rather, it is because storing full strength pasteurized orange juice is more costly and elaborate than storing the space saving concentrate from which “from concentrate” is made. The technology of choice at the moment is aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of oxygen, a process known as “deaeration,” so it doesn’t oxidize in the million gallon tanks in which it can be kept for upwards of a year.

Food Industry Power

If this is all true, then the question remains: Why doesn’t it say anything about this on the carton? And just as importantly, how can they get away with “100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice” on their carton?

The answer to these befuddling questions is that the food industry doesn’t have to say anything about it because the flavor packs are made from orange by-products– even though these “by-products” are so chemically manipulated that they hardly qualify as “by-products” any more. In any case, it turns out that manipulative labelling of this sort is not high on the FDA’s list of priorities.

We, the public, are being duped. If Tropicana (owned by PepsiCo) and all of the other “not from concentrate” companies can get away with claiming that flavor-packed orange juice is “100% pure squeezed orange juice”, then we really need to ask ourselves: What else is the food industry misleading us about?

Update: A previous version of this post used stronger language, but given the ridiculousness of UK libel laws, I have been advised to tone down the language to avoid the possibility of financial ruin. More on UK libel laws later.

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80 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 1:09 pm

    Thanks for filling me in on the orange juice I JUST drank a second ago…

    You write really well, I enjoyed the article. Nothing is ever quite what it seems.

    I come from the business side of things, and it seems like it’s businesses job to keep people in the dark with branded illusions and fantasies.


    • May 19, 2010 2:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment Brandon. I took a look at your blog and it seems like you’re off on an adventure of a lifetime. Good luck with your new company– in addition to making lots of money, I hope it will also spread good business ethics around the world!


  2. May 19, 2010 5:01 pm

    Ah, so as per usual, the best way to have 100% fresh OJ is to go back to the fruits and just squish them yourself. 🙂

    Sounds like the flavour packs are skating that line similar to where Crush Orange soda kept having to declare that it had some many percent real “orange juice” to qualify for some tax break or another.

    Lies, more lies, and then there’s fresh orange juice. 🙂


  3. birdsandwords permalink
    June 16, 2010 5:22 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog from time to time — always super smart and informed! We just finished our Tropicana OJ, and I remember asking my hubby, just the other day, HOW IT IS that it just tastes so perfect and yet so distinctly different from when I make OJ myself (ie: squeeze the orange, end up with sticky goup all over the floor, wonder why hubby doesn’t wash the floor when i need him to — oh the joys of making OJ)…now you’ve enlightened me!
    LIES. MARKETING. what else is new? 🙂

  4. June 17, 2010 2:45 pm

    It’s so great to have you commenting on the blog!
    And yes, I have to admit to being pretty disappointed that my delicious Tropicana was yet another artifice of the food industry. I have since given up on Not From Concentrate OJ– I now feed Miles whole oranges with most of the peel removed so that he can just suck out the juice directly. It’s messy, but very very tasty. No guilt about not eating the pulp or fiber either.

    I remember Orange Crush… didn’t C Plus go through something like that too? In any case, it’s clear that if there is a loophole where the public can be duped for some extra profit, some company somewhere is going to find a way to take advantage of it.
    Maybe what all of this tells us is that corporate culture needs not only more regulation, but also a sense of ethics.


    • June 22, 2010 12:07 am


      Ethics and profits seem to be on not-similar scales. I can’t even say that they are in opposite positions to each other, but it seems that ethics will tend to lose out to profits when they are pitted against each other. Sooner or later, there will be someone who is willing to overlook the ‘ethical’ reasons of (why not) doing something and be as Nike, and ‘just do it’. :/

      Then again, I am rather pessimistic that way 😉

  5. history bob permalink
    August 4, 2010 9:48 pm

    “Fresh-squeezed” is not the only misleading marketing ploy in the OJ market. Tropicana reduced the contents of their half-gallon carton from 64 oz to 59 oz last March, but did NOT actually change the carton size. So there it sits on the supermarket shelf, looking identical in size to all the other brands, but containing 5 fewer ounces! I would call that fraud, but they probably call it clever marketing. Just remember that old phase – buyer beware.

    • August 5, 2010 2:55 pm

      Thanks Bob. That definitely sounds misleading, though I’m sure it’s perfectly legal. Somehow, they manage to get us every time.

      • August 6, 2010 12:53 am

        @Christine: You mean you haven’t noticed the shrinking sizes of the various canned meats and vegetables etcetera? Orange juice/fruit juices shrank from 1.89L to 1.75L, and when canned fish (i.e., tuna et al) went from 6.5oz cans down to 5oz cans (that, and the fact that solid tuna doesn’t seem to exist anymore and is now super-flaky/super watery).

        Even something as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola has been changing sizes here… Cans are still 355mL, but what used to be the 591mL size seems to have been split to either be: 710mL or else, 414mL (with the 414mL selling at the price points of the former 591mL).

  6. September 18, 2010 11:02 am

    Thank you for your article. I have been happily drinking tropicana for ages, thinking that I am buying a better product. I’m not sure why I was so trusting of such a big company. I guess if I want 100% OJ, I need to eat an orange.

  7. Anna permalink
    December 18, 2010 5:39 pm

    Hey Christine! Saw that you won a price with the blog which reminded me to visit again 🙂 I’d need to know just how processed those chemicals are to decide how scandalised to feel about this.. a priori, it doesn’t sound as if the juice is less nutritious or healthy because these flavour packs are added. I wonder if they are also added to juice made from concentrate (although you say that it’s the removal of the oxygen that strips the flavour, I’d assume these kinds of additives are also used with other types of juice). We also don’t see supermarket chicken labelled with ‘x percentage of water injected’, etc… which is not to say that this is good practice, or that it shouldn’t be changed, only that, sadly, it is less than shocking. Then again, maybe I am mellowed by the beauty of the snow falling outside… 🙂

    • December 18, 2010 11:18 pm

      Hi Anna!
      First of all, if you’re in Oxford, you must come and visit.
      On your comment: I think you are much too tolerant of the food industry’s shenanigans! I don’t doubt that others outside of the not-from-concentrate OJ market are pulling a fast one on us too. But in my mind, two wrongs do not make a right. I think all of us have a right to know what is going into our food.

  8. Cassie permalink
    June 23, 2011 10:29 pm

    Thank you for the information. My daughter is severe allergies and is now on the “Caveman Diet”, which prohibits her from consuming anything not 100% pure. She had Tropican in hand and was going to take a big gulp but decided it best to find out for sure. (Shes a smart 11 yr old!) Although Tropican’s website states it is 100% pure, we find from reading your blog that this stuff is not safe for her to drink. Thanks again!

    • June 24, 2011 8:11 am

      Hi Cassie,
      I’m really happy that the post helped your daughter. She is a smart 11 year-old indeed!

  9. July 29, 2011 7:02 pm

    Nice post. ‘Squeezed’ is a fantastic book, and Alissa Hamilton does a great job of following details of the FDA hearings that led to the current state of orange juice labeling and production methods.

    It should be said though, that the ‘simple’ method you propose for making orange juice (“Pick oranges. Squeeze them. Put the juice in a carton and voilà!”) isn’t even possible without nearly instant spoilage. The problem is that every method that prevents OJ from turning into brown rotten slop also strips it of flavor (pasteurization, concentrating, etc). Hence the science project of reproducing the lost flavors using essence and flavoring.

    Fresh-squeezed is the best way to go, and worth the inconvenience. I did a blind-tasting for a group of friends between fresh-squeezed and a high-dollar packaged brand and everyone was stunned at how superior the fresh stuff was.

    • July 29, 2011 10:04 pm

      Point taken Bradley! It’s a slippery slope, moving from pasteurization to flavour packs….

  10. July 31, 2011 5:25 pm

    If the ingredient list on the carton, doesn’t list it, then what’s the difference between,

    “not from concentrate”


    “full strength pasteurized”

    Also Naked Juice and Bolthouse Farms both have orange juices that taste very similar to real juice made at home. So perhaps they have a better added packet formula, or they are keeping the oxygen/non de-aeration!

    • July 31, 2011 9:06 pm

      That is a great question and I would love to know the answer myself. There are definitely juices out there that do not have as uniform a quality to their taste, but I don’t know if that is because they really are “fresh” or if they simply have more innovative food engineers. I hope for the former, but worry about the latter.

      In the UK, for example, Innocent (similar to Naked) has based their entire brand on a “pure” food strategy. I.e., all fruit and nothing else. Now I can’t see them building a brand on a lie, so I hope and expect that they’re telling the truth. But the UK also sells Tropicana in this country with the same sort of ambiguous labelling standards…

      If you find a satisfactory answer to this question, please post.

  11. John permalink
    August 21, 2011 10:25 am

    I was in M&S yesterday and they sell a “not from concentrate” OJ plus one that says:
    “Freshly Squeezed” “Made with 6 oranges” “”unpasteurised”
    I’m assuming that makes it good, if sugary like all OJ?
    (£1.85 for 0.5l)

    • August 21, 2011 12:54 pm

      Hi John. My guess is that the “freshly squeezed” one is the real thing because it says unpasteurised. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? How are most of us supposed to know the difference between “Pure squeezed” (take a look at the picture in this post) and “freshly squeezed”? You shouldn’t need a degree in food labelling laws to figure this out. Someone with some common sense in the regulatory agency should have forbidden this.

  12. September 4, 2011 2:53 pm

    Thank you for some insightful reporting of agro-industrial food production in our country. Although it may be a bit out of the scope of your article, I believe it could add depth noting a few key points:

    People often don’t talk about pesticide use with oranges because people don’t eat the peel. But if they are creating flavor packets from the peel, I think it would be worthwhile to look into the pesticides that are used in orange groves. This website gives some pretty good information on those used in California. I’m sure Florida isn’t much different. When they make these chemical additives (derived from the peel) are they doing anything to prevent contamination of pesticides? I’d be curious to see if independent tests turned up anything noteworthy.

    Another point would be on the environmental impact of these huge orange groves. In Florida alone, the Everglades were (and continue to be) wiped out so they can build more strip-malls, provide more cattle ranching land (although that is in decline), grow more sugar cane, or plant more orange groves. Florida is the largest producer of oranges in the world next to Brazil (from what I’ve read), and the political/economic might of the companies that want to bring citrus of this type to the masses for billions of dollars in capital deserve more scrutiny.

    Just some thoughts.

    • September 6, 2011 4:31 am

      Hi Torben,

      Thanks for your comments. I share your concern about pesticides! However they make the flavour packs, it certainly seems likely that pesticides make their way into all juices, unless they are organic.

      As for the environmental impact of orange groves, I understand your concern. I think these are tensions that permeate all societies as they try to balance the different needs of society. Growing your economy, helping your citizens to prosper, protecting the natural environment, preventing climate change– these priorities compete with each other in Florida, but it could also be argued that they are dependent on each other too. Globalization has made these issues even more complex.


  13. November 28, 2011 1:52 am

    Wow, what a fascinating post. I came upon your site after searching for where Tropicana oranges come from, and found you! I had no idea that they were creating such “processed” products!

    I haven’t bought fruit juice for my home in probably 2+ years, but I have a coupon for a free carton of Tropicana OJ. I wanted to find out which country(ies) they get their oranges from, and this seems so much more sinister!

    Thank you so much for bringing it to light! I will still pick up the free carton of OJ, but otherwise, I’ll never purchase their products again! sigh. Just one more thing to add to the horribly wrong food system our country has!

    Oh and the comments on this article are just as interesting! Thanks all!

  14. February 23, 2012 9:36 pm

    Enquiring late, I see; What is the safety and purity of concentrated OJ??

    • February 24, 2012 2:49 pm

      Hi Frank,
      I have always assumed that OJ from concentrate (the frozen kind) was perfectly safe given that the process involves the removal of water. But I have to admit that I don’t know for sure.
      A food scientist/chemist is probably best placed to reply to your question. I’d welcome an answer on this from someone who is more knowledgeable.

  15. Ashish Mishra permalink
    March 28, 2012 6:07 am

    O my God…

  16. June 22, 2012 11:11 pm

    I just got back from my girlfriends mum’s villa in spain where they have 3 orange trees in the grounds, so each day I would go out and pick a bag full and pit them through the juicer, I couldn’t believe the difference in the the colour and taste. The juice was a deep orange compaired to the yellow juice of Tropicana etc and the taste was in a different league, so it got me thinking why such a difference?

    I thought maybe they pick the oranges early or grew the trees intensly so the soil ended up so poor, but reading this post has given me my answer and I will never be drinking supermarket orange juice again, I can’t believe how these food companies constantly get away with lying to us, really makes me sick, keep spreading the word.

  17. October 8, 2012 1:58 pm

    Yes, we also found out about this some time ago and never bought another one. At least the juices “from a concentrate” are somewhat environmentally friendly as they cut a significant percentage of their carbon footprint through not transporting useless water.

  18. January 4, 2013 4:37 pm

    Its too laugh.What happened to one kind of o.j.???

  19. March 2, 2013 4:00 am

    “Tropicana Orange Juice, Flavor Packs, and
    the Food Industry | Christine Cheng” fredsontheriver in
    fact got me simply hooked with your blog! I personallydefinitely will
    wind up being back far more normally. Thanks ,Charline

  20. March 19, 2013 8:37 pm

    I personally speculate the reason you titled this blog post, Roller Shades “Tropicana Orange Juice, Flavor
    Packs, and the Food Industry | Christine Cheng”.
    In either case I actually enjoyed the blog!

  21. September 22, 2013 9:57 pm

    I work for a juice company. Columbia Gorge Organics, to be exact. It’s a small family farm in Hood River, Oregon. I’ve been working here since January, and I’ve learned some interesting things since then.

    Odwalla is owned by Coca-Cola.
    Naked Juice is owned by Pepsico.
    Evolution is owned by Starbucks.

    Bolthouse Farms and Columbia Gorge (Cogo) are small, organic, family owned independent farms. I don’t know a lot about Bolthouse’ business practices, but I know that our juice is pressed when we drivers order it. Our pull dates are 4 weeks for fruit juices, and 3 for vegetable juices.
    We support non GMO foods and labelling products as such. If you look at the label of one of our bottles of orange juice, it says “Certified 100% Organic Ingredients: Oranges.” There isn’t anything else.

    Obviously, I’m not an impartial source.
    If you really care, do your research.

    • September 22, 2013 10:14 pm

      Sorry if that last line sounded obnoxious. I just took a second look at it. What I meant to say was, “If you really are a person who cares about these things, you can do research to find out the truth.”
      Hopefully that sounds a bit less harsh.

      – Rebis

      • September 24, 2013 8:36 am

        But isn’t that problem iamrebis? Why should anyone have to do research on what Pure Squeezed Orange Juice means? This is misleading for consumers. I’m sure there are still companies out there that have not warped the meaning of freshly squeezed, but you shouldn’t have to google your orange juice to figure out if it really is just orange juice.

  22. Sam permalink
    September 25, 2013 9:19 am

    Thanks for the article,
    Do you have sources to back up the info?

  23. September 26, 2013 5:46 am

    Good web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult
    to find high quality writing like yours nowadays.
    I honestly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  24. January 17, 2014 4:31 pm

    So true,
    I think nothing can match a regular, ripe orange. It’s amazing to see that even in the fitness industry, advertising had such an impact that it’s not a rare offence to hear a personal trainer advising you to start a day with orange juice (fructose death juice) – just get an orange, peel it and enjoy it.

    • elaineshawfacebook permalink
      April 2, 2014 8:49 pm

      so true it is best just squeeze your own !then you know you are getting the real thing and not chemicals!

  25. February 10, 2014 1:07 pm

    I would suspect that someone at CI (Cooks Illustrated) has read this piece and perhaps (generously) used it as a base for the current issue’s OJ article ( because when I was reading through it… it was all so familiar! 😉

  26. elaineshawfacebook permalink
    April 2, 2014 8:46 pm

    i dont think we should be afraid of speaking the truth especially when it is down to our health if it says fresh it should be but the amount tropicana produce and from florida takes some believing because it says 100%pure i buy it for my diabetic husband who drinks it if doesnt feel like eating as he is type 1 so i am hoping nothing else is added they should be accountable for this now and shouldnt be on the market anymore i could have bought the company by now with all tropicana i have bought !!

  27. Antoine permalink
    March 21, 2018 6:06 pm

    How is it legal to say that “nothing is added” when, in fact, they are adding flavour packs?


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