Join 3,574 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A part of this nutritious vibraty feeling all through your guttiwuts
February 15, 2013 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Coke Engineers Its Orange Juice — With an Algorithm: 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.”

The Black Book model includes detailed data about the myriad flavors—more than 600 in all—that make up an orange, and consumer preferences. Those data are matched to a profile detailing acidity, sweetness, and other attributes of each batch of raw juice. The algorithm then tells Coke how to blend batches to replicate a certain taste and consistency, right down to pulp content. Another part of Black Book incorporates external factors such as weather patterns, expected crop yields, and cost pressures. This helps Coke plan so that supplies will be on hand as far ahead as 15 months.


Previously: Alyssa Hamilton's book Squeezed and the Tropicana Juice Train.
posted by not_the_water (52 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
"It requires analyzing up to 1 quintillion decision variables to consistently deliver the optimal blend, despite the whims of Mother Nature.”"

An exabyte is a lot of data.
posted by pwnguin at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another point: cokes purchases 1/3rd of all oranges in Florida
posted by mulligan at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2013


It requires analyzing up to 1 quintillion decision variables to consistently deliver the optimal blend, despite the whims of Mother Nature.

No way.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 9:07 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


That was a really shallow piece that read like maybe Coke had paid to have it written.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I need this post to be in the form of an xkcd comic.
posted by Fizz at 9:12 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Packaged orange juice is a funny thing. Brands proudly tout "not from concentrate," which only means specifically that; they're still blended from juices and flavorings and oils. I doubt the "quintillion" variables, too, but it's obviously very carefully controlled stuff.

The result, I guess, is that it tastes like "orange juice," which is not entirely like the juice of oranges. Which is interesting.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:13 AM on February 15, 2013


Excellent post title.
posted by gubo at 9:14 AM on February 15, 2013


It's too bad valencia still tastes like valencia, no matter how you engineer it.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:15 AM on February 15, 2013


As fascinating as their business modeling might be, I call shenanigans on the quintillion number.
posted by drklahn at 9:16 AM on February 15, 2013


The funny thing is, despite all of these crazy analytics, I don't feel that "Simply Orange" tastes any better than any of the other orange juice brands you find at the grocery store. It's really just the labeling that makes me find it initially more appealing, but after a few sips I'm back to thinking it's the same old thing.
posted by OnTheWing at 9:18 AM on February 15, 2013


The Tropicana "Not From Concentrate" Orange Juice and Newman's Own Lemonade are shockingly better than any other OJ or Lemonade, respectively, amongst mass-produced products.

Simply Orange, Simply Lemonade, Minute Maid...they just don't cut it in comparison. Sorry Coke and your PR-spin-heavy "data-driven" beverages.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:24 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bah. This is nothing. Nature produces orange juice using a combination of RADIATION and CHEMISTRY.
posted by srboisvert at 9:24 AM on February 15, 2013 [30 favorites]


> quintillion decision variables

did you mean quintillion data points?

because I think the actual variables are "is this at all palatable?" and "is this as cheap as possible?"
posted by boo_radley at 9:27 AM on February 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


The funny thing is, despite all of these crazy analytics, I don't feel that "Simply Orange" tastes any better than any of the other orange juice brands you find at the grocery store.

That's not the point. The purpose is to maintain consistency for the manufactured product against variations in the harvest and production environment. It also means that (in principle) if there is some change to the conditions for manufacturing 'Simply Orange' they don't need to have a highly trained and expensive consultant or employee on hand to problem solve, but they just see what new parameters their system spits out. Honestly, I doubt the other OJ manufacturers don't have similar operations, but some consultant packaged up Simply Orange's business methods and impressed Coca-Cola, I guess.

The Tropicana "Not From Concentrate" Orange Juice and Newman's Own Lemonade are shockingly better than any other OJ or Lemonade, respectively, amongst mass-produced products.

Says one happy consumer who buys by brand. "Not from concentrate" OJ in mass quantities at your supermarket is a highly processed manufactured food, by necessity. Is it the quality of Tropicana's chemical engineering? Or their commitment to sourcing the purest volatile organic chemicals?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:30 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Like quintillion is a real number.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:33 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


> As fascinating as their business modeling might be, I call shenanigans on the quintillion number.

Possibly technically right, probably extremely puffed up by PR.

There are 64 available squares on a chess board. At each of those squares you have to decide your next move. If your goal is only to get from one side to the other, you need never visit more than 8 of those squares regardless of the piece you use. But different pieces will have to visit different squares.
posted by ardgedee at 9:37 AM on February 15, 2013


uncleozzy -- did you mean "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike OJ" ?
posted by k5.user at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


In "Trading Places," Mr. Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III and Eddie Murphy's Billy Ray Valentine join forces to get even with Mortimer and Randolph Duke, thwarting their attempt to corner the orange juice market and leaving them bankrupt. The climactic final scenes show frantic traders screaming out orders on the floor of the exchange, seeking to halt their losses.

But since 2008, frozen orange juice futures contracts have been traded electronically. Each futures contract represents 15,000 pounds of frozen concentrated juice, or about $20,000 in value based on Monday's closing prices.


Or, to make another movie reference, it's all ball-bearings these days.
posted by three blind mice at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cola or high tech OJ, swilling the stuff all the time will still cause the diabeetus.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:40 AM on February 15, 2013


Wow - an algorithm!
posted by Segundus at 9:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


When the 'Drink' button is pressed it makes an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject's taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject's metabolism, and then sends tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centres of the subject's brain to see what is likely to be well received. However, no-one knows quite why it does this because it then invariably delivers a cupful of liquid that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike orange juice.

Share and enjoy!
posted by Drastic at 9:43 AM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


I won't knowingly eat or drink a coca-cola product. Which annoyingly meant I had to give up Odwalla juice blends when they bought it. Thank goodness Columbia Gorge Organics stepped up and began producing some comparable products.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:46 AM on February 15, 2013


Tropicana OJ is genuinely very good.

Jamba Juice has fresh-squeezed OJ year round, if you ever want the real stuff but you don't have a case of oranges and a juicer.
posted by miyabo at 9:50 AM on February 15, 2013


There are 64 available squares on a chess board. At each of those squares you have to decide your next move. If your goal is only to get from one side to the other, you need never visit more than 8 of those squares regardless of the piece you use. But different pieces will have to visit different squares.

Yeah, but I would think that if you are truly building a feedback loop which is looking for infinitesimally small improvements, that you can't just ignore sub-optimal paths on the decision tree. Sure "Sugar" is probably one of those that is guaranteed to not be removed, but hey - they probably do sit there and titrate up and down the % along some curve just to see if they could get away with less to minimize their cost - or if by increasing it more, the added cost improves the junkie-hood of their customer base.

I'm betting the edge cases are wicked funny for their stats team.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:51 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, eh, got distracted - CHAID away on this, but they apparently don't like solving something like this with a Monte Carlo, so that means if you want to consider all the possibilities - that apparently they get an inane number of them...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:53 AM on February 15, 2013


Newman's Own Lemonade [is] shockingly better than any other ... Lemonade

This. Give me a 2:3:1 ratio of ice, strong black Lipton tea, and Newman's Own Lemonade in a comically oversized cup on a hot August day and you will witness something akin to the marathon miracle described (at one point, anyway) on the lemonade's carton.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2013


I won't knowingly eat or drink a coca-cola product.

I'm thinking Coca-Cola and healthful beverage just don't jibe.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:01 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


John McPhee: Oranges.

McPhee's classic is starting to become dated, maybe, (the techniques growers and manufaturers used 40+ years ago are crude compared to this guy's High Data driven methods), but still important as a model for this kind of reporting and a reminder that industry is relentless in pursuit of product consistency and production efficiency.
posted by notyou at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Newman's Own lemonade IS the shit. Agreed. But Tropicana always tasted too sweet to me (weirdly, ALL Pepsi products taste too sweet to me - and until reading this I didn't know Pepsi owned Tropicana). And the Trop 50 low cal "juice"? My wife bought some and it was utterly vile. It tasted more artificial than Sunny Delight. So in our house its Simply Orange or nothing, as far as OJ goes. (Well OK the Trader Joe's juice is an acceptable alternative...)
posted by caution live frogs at 10:15 AM on February 15, 2013


OnTheWing: "The funny thing is, despite all of these crazy analytics, I don't feel that "Simply Orange" tastes any better than any of the other orange juice brands you find at the grocery store. It's really just the labeling that makes me find it initially more appealing, but after a few sips I'm back to thinking it's the same old thing."

Have you ever gotten a bad jar of OJ?

It's certainly still drinkable, but definitely has a bitter/sour/funny aftertaste. Over the years, I've noticed that the major juice manufacturers have gotten a lot better at reducing the amount of bad juice on the shelves. It's a dumb cognitive bias, but I'm going to be a whole lot less likely to buy [Product X] if I have just one bad experience with [Product X], especially if are many nearly-identical products also sitting on the store shelves.

Really, Coke's just doing really, really, really good QC on their product. These days, we have a big tendency to throw our hands up and panic whenever (we notice that) technology is applied to our food's production. However, in this case, I fail to see any major downside -- we're using technology to produce a noticeably better and more consistent product.

It's also not like this is a new or revolutionary process. Most wine producers use a very similar process to ensure that a consistent product is produced from inputs of multiple vineyards across multiple years. Grapes from different vineyards need to be carefully blended to produce a consistent product, and the big brands also like to produce a consistent product across the years (which any wine producer will tell you is bloody difficult).

I got to meet a very prominent sommelier in California last year, and while he went on and on about the (seemingly insane) steps that his vineyard took to produce small batches of a top-quality product, he was very clearly in awe of the fact that Sutter Home and their ilk were able to produce millions of bottles of cheap, consistent, and very drinkable wine year after year, especially when they often weren't even growing most of their own grapes.
posted by schmod at 10:24 AM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't feel that "Simply Orange" tastes any better than any of the other orange juice brands you find at the grocery store.

"Better" isn't what they're after though, consistency and some average, sales-driven, highest grossing flavour is. They want the taste to be exactly the same every time you open another bottle. They're selling an industrial product like MacDonalds or Heinz. It doesn't matter what kind of cattle they use to make a Big Mac or which tomatoes they use for ketchup, they always taste the same.

Commodity sameness is Coke's model. Many people are comforted by that consistency. That's what Coke sells.
posted by bonehead at 10:29 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in the mass-production of food and drink, you should check out the book Salt, Sugar, Fat by journalist Michael Moss. He goes into detail about how food and drink are engineered and marketed by companies like Coca Cola, Kellogg, Kraft etc.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:30 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"we're using technology to produce a noticeably better and more consistent product. "

Meh, reducing variation, yes. Better product, maybe. The tyranny of the engineers continues to strive to remove the tails, and with throwing out the bad comes the risk of throwing out something great all in the pursuit of just good. But, as bonehead states, people are comforted by consistency. Or to quote Warhol, "A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. "

Well, back to millions of lines in JMP for me!
posted by roquetuen at 10:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had no idea the "Simply" brand was owned by Coke. That's good information to know. I just hope they never put any HFCS in any of those products. Me and HFCS, we got issues.
posted by daq at 10:43 AM on February 15, 2013


There are 64 available squares on a chess board. At each of those squares you have to decide your next move. If your goal is only to get from one side to the other, you need never visit more than 8 of those squares regardless of the piece you use. But different pieces will have to visit different squares.

That's about your state-space, not a "decision variable". Consider the case of moving toward 0 on a number line, where positions are integers. You start on an arbitrary integer. You can move one integer at a time. Are there a countably infinite number of "decision variables" here? No, there's one: whether your location is negative or positive. If it is negative, move right. If positive, move left. The state-space is indeed infinite, but that's not that impressive, since you can get that even with the simplest problems.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:59 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The "algorithm" is probably the good old Simplex algorithm, which is quite popular in the agrofood industries for food and feed least-cost formulation purposes. In its most basic form, people use it to optimize the choice of ingredients to create the cheapest product with given properties.
posted by elgilito at 11:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


As fascinating as their business modeling might be, I call shenanigans on the quintillion number.

That sum seems to include a plethora of variables that don't stand in for things like the presence of certain chemicals in specific quantities and proportions in the raw juice; the article says that they take things like regional consumer taste variation and weather into account, and presumably other variables also represent relationships between other values. It's a huge number, but this kind of dizzyingly vast computational scope is exactly why we have computers, isn't it?
posted by clockzero at 11:26 AM on February 15, 2013


Is juice from concentrate bad for some reason? Does the concentration degrade the taste? Are there additives not found in the regular stuff? From the article, it didn't seem to take much extra processing beyond removing some of the water. I had a roommate in college who never let us buy juice from concentrate even though it was cheaper because she was convinced she could taste the difference, and that difference wasn't good. I couldn't tell the difference. I might be one of the last people on the planet that buys the frozen cylinders of juice from the freezer section. I mix it with filtered water, and it tastes fine to me. Even the extra pulp kind reconstitutes nicely. Bonuses are that it's light to carry home from the store, and, if you're like me and don't drink juice that often, you can just mix up a little bit at a time.
posted by bluefly at 11:29 AM on February 15, 2013


I've read that buying orange juice concentrate is one thing, but that bottled orange juice made from concentrate tents to be inferior to not-from-concentrate OJ or OJ-you-reconstituted-yourself because it must be pasteurized twice (before stored as concentrate and again when reconstituted).
posted by JiBB at 12:02 PM on February 15, 2013


I think the actual variables are "is this at all palatable?" and "is this as cheap as possible?"

Add to those: "does this taste exactly like the last million batches?"

That's the trick: they're trying to specially blend a constant flavor profile, while every orange tastes a bit different.

That's why I really like Costco's orange juice. Sadly, it seems that the stuff I get here in New Mexico is always tarter than the gallons of juice I got in Southern/Central California. "Bottled" in a old-style milk jug (you know, the milky-white plastic gallon with a handle on one corner), a simple label stuck on one side, and drink it in 7 days from opening.

Sadly, there's no "pulpy" option: there's just the filtered, pasteurized Costco OJ, and only available in that gallon jug.

It's close to fresh-squeezed, but not quite. My wife had gone some 30 years without ever tasting fresh-squeezed orange juice, but I guess that's the cost of growing up on the broader mid-west. Anyway, she was never a big fan of orange juice, and didn't understand my love of the stuff. My parents have an orange tree in their yard, and one weekend when we were staying there, we had breakfast with fresh orange juice. I like to think it changed her life in a little way, similar to tasting real maple syrup for the first time.

Industrialized orange juice now makes me sad, and I agree with Alissa Hamilton that labeling to inform consumers that the juice has been engineered from various batches of oranges would be quite informative. I wonder if all "100% Juice" is created from the same mix of sources. It sounds like a lot of work, but if the goal is consistently reproducible flavor from bottle to bottle, juice engineering sounds like the only realistic option. I am now scowling at The Banack Family, 3rd generation growers pictured on an Ocean Spray bottle of 100% Grapefruit Juice.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:06 PM on February 15, 2013


bluefly -- from an earlier mefi link, I'd say the FCOJ is closer to the actual fresh-squeezed than any of the refrigerated juice you can buy at the store.

(That smith-mag link from the link appears 404, so here's a secondary source from a different mefi post
posted by k5.user at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2013


If your "orange juice" involves "algorithms", it's probably not orange juice.
posted by tommasz at 12:12 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


As fascinating as their business modeling might be, I call shenanigans on the quintillion number.

You didn't get to the part where they take an HD quality video of the picking of every single orange and feed it into their supercomputer.
posted by miyabo at 12:35 PM on February 15, 2013


Which then catches fire because you're spraying orange juice into a supercomputer.
posted by boo_radley at 12:37 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a huge number, but this kind of dizzyingly vast computational scope is exactly why we have computers, isn't it?

The most powerful supercomputer today has about 20 petaflops of processing power; that's the ability to do 2*10^16 floating point operations per second. A quintillion is 10^18. Maybe Coke is willing to spend a lot of time in each iteration of the algorithm and use a weaker computer, but I don't think you can avoid the conclusion that they would have to invest a serious amount in computing hardware to even think of optimizing such a problem.

I suspect their optimization is a linear program, because that's what these resource allocation things usually are, and because business people often hold them in a strange kind of reverence. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but even the most powerful commercial solvers for linear programs can only handle tens of millions of variables, certainly not a quintillion.
posted by Pyry at 12:53 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Big deal. I'm leveraging OJ purchasing techniques that I found out about right here on MetaFilter.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:51 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've read that buying orange juice concentrate is one thing, but that bottled orange juice made from concentrate tents to be inferior to not-from-concentrate OJ or OJ-you-reconstituted-yourself because it must be pasteurized twice (before stored as concentrate and again when reconstituted).

Indeed. My aunt's trick to making concentrated, frozen orange juice taste like fresh squeezed was to add the juice from one fresh orange to the mix.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:52 PM on February 15, 2013


I grew up thinking frozen OJ tasted horrible. Just the absolute worst, it was punishment to drink it. Only as a adult did I realize that was primarily because my dad used to make us brush our teeth before breakfast. But I still can't drink the frozen stuff, the taste-memory from childhood is too strong... If I didn't know it was frozen, I'd probably be OK I guess.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2013


"Is juice from concentrate bad for some reason? Does the concentration degrade the taste? Are there additives not found in the regular stuff? "

I'm sure it's because you add your own water, which is a big taste destandardizer.
posted by toodleydoodley at 2:31 PM on February 15, 2013


If your "orange juice" involves "algorithms", it's probably not orange juice.

All orange juice follows an algorithm. At a base level, an algorithm is a set of instructions - a recipe - that can be repeated. In the case of Orange juice:

1. Juice orange over cup.
2. Drink.

is about the shortest and least complex algorithm you can have.

Once you have to execute that on a couple million tons of oranges - well, that gets a hell of a lot more complex. For consistency you wind up with weird things such as

325. Strain Pulp

but later

632.

Add pulp back in.

and that winds up giving them what they feel is the best tasting orange juice that they can controlably put into your hands - regardless of the materials they start with.

Now if your just saying you can't make orange juice with a mathematical algorithm, well, ignoring that part - you still certainly can. If it involves algorithms, it probably is both orange and juice. In fact, it probably is within a specific range of what classifies as a color orange, as well as a consistency that is within the tolerance of the definition of juice.

Yes though, it will never be the greatest glass of orange juice you ever had - nor will it ever be the freshest. It will however, be mass-produced and consistent in flavor every time you open the bottle.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:33 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn. I was hoping for more!
posted by barnacles at 9:02 PM on February 15, 2013


Industrialists don't really understand food. Never have, never will.
posted by Segundus at 3:01 AM on February 16, 2013


« Older Montag's Gay Porn Archives Lo-Fi Mix....   |   Only two works of Nonnus of Pa... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments