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Coke plans major expansion of Fla. orange groves

AUBURNDALE, Fla. — The Coca-Cola Co. says it is spending $2 billion to support the planting of 25,000 acres of new orange groves in Florida, a move officials are lauding as a major investment in the Sunshine State’s citrus industry.

Coca-Cola owns the Minute Maid and Simply juice brands.

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‘‘It’s an investment in a market that’s very important to us,’’ said Steve Cahillane, the president of Coca-Cola Americas.

Some 5 million new trees will be planted in the new groves, believed to be the largest citrus addition in the state for at least 15 years. The groves will be located in Polk, DeSoto, and Hendry counties in central Florida.

Company officials say the new groves and resulting juice production are expected to add about 4,100 jobs to Florida’s economy.

The move also is seen as a boost to historically declining acreage devoted to citrus production in Florida. During the state’s past housing boom, many citrus farmers sold their land to developers. Since 1997, total citrus acreage has fallen by 25 percent, from 600,000 acres to 450,000 acres, because of disease, pests, and other pressures, according to Florida Citrus Mutual.

Coca-Cola officials said that the Florida Citrus Commission is working on an economic study centered on the company’s investment, and that a preliminary draft shows that over the course of 25 years the expansion will add more than $10.5 billion — or $422 million per year — to Florida’s economy. Company officials said Coca-Cola buys a third of all Florida oranges.

Cahillane said that the company also purchases juice from Brazil, Florida’s biggest competitor in the juice industry.

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