Coke Engineers Its Orange Juice—With an Algorithm

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Don’t let the name fool you. Coca-Cola’s (KO) Simply Orange juice is anything but pick, squeeze, and pour. That cold glass of 100 percent liquid sunshine on the breakfast table is the product of a sophisticated industrial juice complex. Satellite imagery, complicated data algorithms, even a juice pipeline are all part of the recipe. “You take Mother Nature and standardize it,” says Jim Horrisberger, director of procurement at Coke’s huge Auburndale (Fla.) juice packaging plant. “Mother Nature doesn’t like to be standardized.”

A computer model directs everything from picking schedules to the blend to maintain a consistent taste

A computer model directs everything from picking schedules to the blend to maintain a consistent taste

Many people choose Simply Orange juice because they believe it is a less processed, more natural choice than other brands. However, a new investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek shows that it is a “hyper-engineered and dauntingly industrial product.” Coca-Cola owns Simply Orange, which is made using a process they call Black Book. Since juice production is full of variables, including a peak growing season of only 3 months, this methodology was created to produce consistent orange juice year round. They won’t tell anyone how exactly the Black Book formula works, but the consultant who designed it, Bob Cross of Revenue Analytics, shared it with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Black Book is an algorithm that includes data about consumer preferences and the 600 flavors that make up an orange. Coke matches this data to a profile detailing acidity, sweetness, etc. so that they can blend batches to replicate the same taste and consistency. Black Book also incorporates external factors, such as weather patterns, anticipated crop yields, and cost pressures to allow Coke to plan ahead and ensure they have supplies on hand.

Coca-Cola’s Brazilian partner, Cutrale, processes the oranges, which are grown to Coke specifications. Satellite imaging allows them to order growers to pick their fruit at the best time, as determined by Black Book. The fresh-squeezed juice is stored in Cutrale’s silos and transported via a 1.2 mile underground pipeline to Coke’s packaging plant, where it is flash-pasteurized. It is then piped to storage tanks where it is slowly agitated and covered with a nitrogen gas blanked to keep out oxygen, which has been sucked out of the juice, as it will cause it to spoil.

The batches from different crops and seasons are separated, based on orange type, sweetness, and acidity. Blend technicians follow Black Book instructions, adding natural flavors and fragrances captured during squeezing back into the juice to make up for the flavor lost in processing. “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,” explains Alissa Hamilton, author of Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.

If you’re looking for an all-natural orange juice experience, free of algorithms and flavor packs, your best bet is to juice it yourself, go to a juice bar, or take Hamilton’s suggestion and enjoy a whole Valencia orange instead.

 

As Originally Published in Bloomberg and the Chicagoist

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