The wild algorithms of orange juice

I don’t blog about my love of orange juice as much as I used to. But back in the day, I was a big fan of Simply Orange juice. After consuming Minute Maid from-concentrate juice in college and shortly thereafter, the arrival of not-from-concentrate, MM-sibling Simply blew my ever-orange-juice-loving mind. I told everyone I knew how much I loved it. (Working a 6 a.m. shift at the time, there were a significant number of opportunities to do so.)

But now deep in Tropicana land, with occasional journeys back to Simply country, it’s with some interest this weekend that I read Business Week’s story about the wildly complex algorithms behind Simply Orange-ness.

In bucolic Auburndale, an hour south of Disney World, Coke has spent $114 million in recent years expanding its premier U.S. juice bottling plant, which it claims is the world’s largest. It’s here that Coke has perfected a top-secret methodology it calls Black Book to make sure consumers have consistent orange juice 12 months a year, even though the peak growing season lasts about three months. “We basically built a flight simulator for our juice business,” says Doug Bippert, Coke’s vice president of business acceleration.

Black Book isn’t really a secret formula. It’s an algorithm. Revenue Analytics consultant Bob Cross, architect of Coke’s juice model, also built the model Delta Air Lines (DAL) uses to maximize its revenue per mile flown. Orange juice, says Cross, “is definitely one of the most complex applications of business analytics. It requires analyzing up to 1 quintillion decision variables to consistently deliver the optimal blend, despite the whims of Mother Nature.”

I appreciate the tech and the people who figure out the best tastes. But never has a story made me want a fresh-squeezed glass of juice so much.

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