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The Algorithm Behind "Fresh" Orange Juice

By Wesley Fenlon

Coca Cola's massive orange juice production is, of course, controlled by math. What else could deliver the exact same flavor of juice in every bottle?

24 hours or eight months. Those are the extremes of how long a batch of Simply Orange juice can take to go from the tree to a glass on someone's breakfast table. Huge difference, right? It's all in the name of uniformity. Coca Cola, which owns the Simply Orange and Minute Maid brands, uses algorithms and mathematical modeling to plan every exacting step in the process of juice production, from the moment they're picked to how long they sit in a tank. Math ensures that each bottle contains the same juice makeup and keeps OJ shipping year-round, even though the peak growing season in Florida lasts only three months.

Every last decision comes from an algorithm called Black Book, according to a recent Businessweek article. Coke has broken down the orange into 600 separate flavors. They've set up what they claim is the largest juice bottling facility in the world. They've made Black Book so comprehensive, it can determine the perfect blend of juice batches to maintain consistency or re-plan months of scheduling if a sudden frost affects an orange crop. Black Book's creator, Bob Cross, also created an algorithm for Delta to help them maximize revenue for every flight.

The science--or perhaps business--of making orange juice results in some funny job titles, like "blend technician." It's also remarkable how planned out every step of the production process is. Crops of oranges in Brazil are even monitored by satellite to determine when they're ripe.

Coke has broken down the orange into 600 separate flavors.

Businessweek's full account is worth a read, because Coca Cola's juice business is both fascinating and successful. They own 17 percent of the world's top markets and are gaining ground while Pepsi is shrinking (of course Coke's biggest competitor would own Tropicana). Perhaps the most impressive thing about the algorithm-controlled juice process is the name that covers it all up. Could there be a more perfect brand name to hide the rigorously controlled production more than "Simply Orange?"