Across town from Tropicana’s factory in Fort Pierce, Florida, which swallows dozens of truckloads of oranges each run and fills the air with the sting of bitter peel oil, Marygrace Sexton is walking through the considerably smaller juice plant she owns. At 7 p.m. the first of six semis rolls up with 50,000 pounds of fruit. Workers check each orange for bruising before a claw-like machine juices it. By 3 a.m., 30,000 gallons will start flowing into bottles.
While Tropicana’s juice can remain for a year in million-gallon tanks covered with a blanket of nitrogen, Sexton’s product is shipped out later that morning. “Feed your body like you want it to treat you,” the tan, athletic 60-year-old says. “We were making fresh juice before it was chic.”
It was in 1989 that Sexton was inspired to compete with the preservative-laced cartons on supermarket shelves. With $20,000 she had saved from a job as a radiologist’s receptionist, she installed two 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks and a juicer in a shack surrounded by groves and borrowed a butcher’s refrigerated truck to deliver the first pallet herself. Thus was born Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Co., Natalie referring to Sexton’s first child, born nine months before.
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