Jose Cutrale: The Brazilian Fruit King
By: Anne Jones
In the United States, orange juice is synonymous with Florida. It may come as a surprise, then, to look at the fine print on a bottle of Tropicana and Simply Orange and discover that part of the product isn’t from the Sunshine State after all. It’s from Brazil.
More than 50 percent of all orange juice bottled by major companies like Tropicana is supplied by a Brazilian company, shipped in specialized fruit juice tankers from the Port of Santos in Sao Paulo. Last year, this orange juice export market was worth $1.4 billion.
Brazil is the biggest producer of orange juice in the world and the Brazilian company Sucocitrico Cutrale alone controls more than 33 percent of the $5 billion global orange juice industry. At its 3,200-foot-long processing plant, Cutrale can crush 45 million oranges a day, moving the concentrate to more than 90 countries. The family owned company produces one of every three glasses of orange juice consumed on the planet.
The global operation is a far cry from José Cutrale’s first plant.
Jose Luis Cutrale, 68, known as “Orange King” is head of a third-generation fruit empire that began with his family’s orange groves and grew into Minute Maid’s largest world supplier. His fortune, valued at $2.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, makes him the 26th-richest person in Brazil.
The Beginning of the Empire
The family’s fruit business was started by the billionaire’s grandfather, Guiseppe Cutrale, an Italian immigrant who sold oranges in Sao Paulo’s municipal market.
The elder Cutrale purchased an orange grove and began exporting the fruit to Europe and the Middle East in 1956. His son, Jose Cutrale Jr., bought a juice plant in 1967 and changed the firm’s name to Sucocitrico Cutrale.
In 1957, a cold front brought snow to Central Florida and with it widespread citrus damage. While Florida orange growers abandoned dead groves and moved south to replant, Cutrale moved into the void.
Today, Cutrale operates five processing plants and 40 citrus farms. It has disease-free screened nurseries for new orange trees.
The company that Jose Luis Cutrale oversees today looks nothing like his grandfather’s orange business. Employees use satellite imaging of Brazilian groves to ensure the fruit is picked at the right time. A pipeline sends juice from silos in Auburndale, Fla., to a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Blend technicians control acidity levels by following algorithms known internally as “the Black Book.”
The company’s reach spans the global supply chain, from about 400,000 acres of Brazilian groves to a fleet of vessels that ship his commodities to at least three continents. Trucks with the logo of a dripping orange slice are a fixture on Sao Paulo highways as they haul juice to Santos, Latin America’s biggest port, where the company rents a private-use terminal.
In 2014, Cutrale joined with Brazilian banking billionaire Joseph Safra in the $1.3 billion buyout of banana company Chiquita and its subsidiary Fresh Express salads. Chiquita has marketed bananas and pineapples for more than 100 years and is one of the world’s most recognizable brands, with revenues of $2 billion.
Cutrale has been looking for ways to diversify away from the slowing orange juice market for the past few years. While banana producers have struggled to maintain their profit margins in the face of crop disease and supermarket price wars, the banana is still the world’s most traded fruit and generated $7bn in global export sales last year.
The juicer has been moving into other agribusiness sectors recently, including soybeans and corn, but its bid for bananas makes the most sense. It’s fruit. It’s easily blended into orange juice to make other mixed juice drinks popular here in the U.S. Chiquita matches Cutrale’s core business perfectly.
Anne Jones is a freelance writer with broad experience in reporting about fashion, lifestyle and entertainment