Small OJ businesses promote Made in USA labels

@CNNMoney January 13, 2012: 5:19 PM ET
Benny McLean, production manager for Uncle Matt's Organic in Florida, holds up a bottle of his company's orange juice, which recently moved its U.S. label to the prominent front.

Benny McLean, production manager for Uncle Matt's Organic in Florida, holds up a bottle of his company's orange juice, which recently moved its U.S. label to the prominent front.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- In the wake of a scare affecting imports of orange juice, growers and juice companies in Florida are reminding customers their product isn't from abroad.

"It's good timing to say it's all U.S.A. fruit," said Matt McLean, founder of a small juice company in Clermont, Fla.

Although the 59-oz bottles of Uncle Matt's Organic orange juice have always stated the contents are domestically grown, McLean two weeks ago shifted a tiny red, white and blue "All USA fruit" label from the back to the front.

He did it to support American farmers like himself. The move, he said, is coincidental but nonetheless fortunate for his business, given current fears about foreign fruit.

"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration halted all imports of orange juice and concentrates as it tests shipments for the carbendazim fungicide, one that is legal in several countries but not the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not approved its use, and scientific studies have shown high exposure leads to infertility in some animals. The agency recently released three shipments after confirming that they were negative for carbendazim.

Still, consumers aren't likely to be quickly convinced, and that might temporarily hurt the juice industry, according to Texas A&M University professor Marco Palma.

"Initially, there might be an overall reduction in orange juice consumption, but this is an opportunity for the U.S.-grown orange juice industry to position themselves and differentiate their products," said Palma, who did a 2011 study on fruits and vegetables, which compared consumer reactions to domestic and overseas outbreaks.

That means now is the time to shine for the 20-employee Uncle Matt's, which sells its juice in 3,000 stores nationwide, and others like it.

Other Floridian companies are taking extra precautions to put customers at ease, as the Orchid Island Juice Company did by placing a bright red and underlined "No Imported Juice" banner on their website's homepage on Monday.

But there's no telling yet whether the state agency responsible for marketing for citrus industry will take same approach for Florida growers -- many of them family-run, small operations.

Florida Department of Citrus spokeswoman Karen Mathis said they're sticking to a year-long marketing plan made in October. To top of page

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