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OJ outfit simply not what it seems

Simply Orange Juice Co. is a quiet assault by Minute Maid and its parent Coca-Cola against rival Tropicana.

A tiny, unknown company based in Apopka would hardly seem up to taking on giant PepsiCo and its Tropicana brand of not-from-concentrate orange juice.

But Simply Orange Juice Co. isn't simply what it seems. The new company with the folksy name and small-town address is the creation of Tropicana's archrival, Minute Maid, and its parent, Coca-Cola Co.

The new Simply Orange brand will start out as Minute Maid's latest weapon against Tropicana's stranglehold on markets in the Northeast. In New York, for example, Tropicana Premium outsells Minute Maid 7 to 1. If the new brand does well, Minute Maid will roll it out to other parts of the country.

"It's a real company, and we've put together a leadership-level marketing plan for Simply Orange Juice Co.," said Ray Crockett, spokesman for Houston-based Minute Maid, which will support the new brand with advertising, coupons and promotions.

But the new company has no employees, no factory and doesn't actually make orange juice. That's all provided by Minute Maid, which has the distribution muscle to get the new brand shelf space in supermarkets. In fact, Simply Juice Company's new premium chilled juice will be made under a co-packing agreement with a citrus processing plant in Leesburg.

So why the Apopka address? There's a Minute Maid research and development lab and quality assurance facility near that fast-growing town of 20,000 that's a 15-minute drive from Orlando and has long been known for its citrus and foliage industry.

More important, marketers and prospective customers in focus groups liked the sound of the word. Apopka.

"We're using it as a symbol of small-town quality," Crockett said.

Minute Maid is not fond of comparisons to Bartles & Jaymes, a pair of folksy but fake characters who fronted a wine cooler brand several years ago for giant Gallo. Still, Simply Orange Juice will try to sell OJ more like wine.

Simply Orange will come in a clear plastic carafe that should stand out in the sea of waxed, gable-topped cartons in supermarket dairy cases. Among not-from-concentrate juices, only store brands come in plastic bottles, and those are foggy, not see-through clear.

That's because marketers of fresh juices don't think their product looks much more appealing than concentrate after the pulp settles to the bottom and the water rises to the top.

Until now, the chilled juice industry's answer to the mess and inconvenience of gable-top cartons has been a twist-off cap. Bradenton-based Tropicana also offers a white plastic bottle with a big handle on the side that resembles a liquid laundry detergent bottle.

"We welcome the new competition," said Kristine Nickel, spokeswoman for Tropicana. She said her company has never used clear bottles partly because that could limit the shelf life for chilled juice, which is about three weeks.

After its research found some consumers thought national brands tasted over-processed, Minute Maid also concocted a new recipe for Simply Orange. It's less acidic and sweeter-tasting than other premium, not-from-concentrate juices. Focus groups agreed it tasted more like fresh-squeezed than the premium juice competition that is comparably priced.

Nationwide, Minute Maid leads the OJ-from-concentrate market. But its 19 percent share of the chilled juice market is a distant second to Tropicana's 39 percent, according to AC Nielsen estimates.

Minute Maid says it is not just trying to gain customers from Tropicana.

"We're trying to expand the category," Crockett said.

_ Mark Albright can be reached at or (727) 893-8252.