According to industry insiders, production and demand for citrus fruit has been steadily rising since the 1980s. A report released by the United Nations concluded that the growth of the international citrus market is due mostly to improvements in cultivation, transportation and packaging as well as increased consumer demand for healthy foods.
Of the 105 million tons that are produced each year, more than half of them are oranges. Why is the orange so popular? There are a number of obvious reasons. But to truly understand them, we must look at the most prolific orange producers.
Because it is a tropical fruit, the orange will only grow in tropical and subtropical climates. In countries that are closer to the equator, these climates are quite common. But for the United States, there are only a few areas where the orange can grow. At present, there are four states that produce commercial shipments of oranges—Florida, California, Texas and Arizona. But only two of them are even worth mentioning.
California and Texas account for about 95 percent of US orange production. One reason that this pair is so dominant is that they focus on what they do best. Florida, for example, has always been a world leader in the orange juice market. Each year, they battle Brazil for the top spot. Between the two of them, they ship about eighty-five percent of the world’s orange juice. To accomplish this awesome feat, Florida grows a variety of oranges that are famous for their juice.
Well over half the total citrus crop in the Sunshine State is devoted to the Valencia orange. Introduced in the late eighteenth century, it is a sweet, seeded orange that is perfect for juicing. About ninety percent of the Valencia crop in Florida is turned into juice.
Only about twenty percent of the oranges in Florida escape the juicer. These oranges are either canned or sold as fresh fruit. The most popular fresh fruit variety is the navel orange. Introduced a few years after the Valencia, the navel orange, especially those grown in Florida, are often described as the ideal eating orange. Why is this?
Unlike the Valencia, the navel orange is unseeded and it has a thick, loose skin. This is important because it makes the fruit more durable and less likely to bruise or go bad. Because Florida has a wetter climate than other citrus-producing states, their navel oranges are also much juicer.
Though only about five percent of the oranges grown in Florida are navels, they are one of the most popular fresh fruits for consumers on the East Coast of the United States. Each year, about half a million tons of navel oranges are shipped from Florida.