Billionaire José Luis Cutrale, known as Brazil’s “Orange King,” who built a powerhouse orange juice exporting business and riled up some orange growers in the process, has died at age 75. He passed away in London on Wednesday from natural causes, according to a statement from his family.
As a young boy, Cutrale worked for his father, an orange trader and grower, at a municipal market in São Paulo, Brazil. In 1967, when he was 21, he and his father founded orange grower Sucocítrico Cutrale. It grew to become one of the industry leaders, exporting orange juice and orange juice concentrate to countries around the world. Customers have included Minute Maid and Simply Orange. In the mid 1990s the company purchased orange processing plants in Florida from Coca Cola, according to an online profile.
José Luis Cutrale was “a man of few words and great commitment, with strong interpersonal skills and brilliance in business,” his family’s statement said. He invested in a wide range of businesses, including salads, beverages, snacks, logistics, real estate, financial services and health care, per the statement. In 2015, he and Brazilian banking billionaire Joseph Safra (d. 2020) acquired banana company Chiquita Brands International for $1.3 billion. Revenues of that group, now called Chiquita Holdings, hit $3.1 billion in 2020, the most recent year for which filings are available.
In 2016, Brazil’s antitrust agency, known as Cade, disclosed after a whopping 18-year-long case that it had reached an $88 million settlement with multiple orange juice producers that were accused of colluding to depress prices paid to fruit growers. The producers included Sucocítrico Cutrale and five others, according to the Wall Street Journal. Sucocítrico Cutrale had no comment on the settlement at the time.
In November 2021, U.K. law firm PGMBM, representing 1,500 Brazilian orange growers, announced that a High Court judgement enabled it to move forward with a lawsuit in England against José Luis Cutrale and his son José Luis Cutrale, Jr., because of Mr. Cutrale’s ties to the country, including a home in London. The suit seeks damages for the growers, who claimed that Mr. Cutrale participated in an illegal cartel that suppressed prices and forced thousands out of business. It has not yet gone to trial.
A spokesperson for José Luis Cutrale said in a statement: “This litigation is an example of international forum shopping by claimants attempting to extricate themselves from groundless and time-barred Brazilian proceedings — where they have no standing — and implement Brazilian law in the UK. PGMBM’s efforts are just a sophisticated, well-financed, but fruitless attempt to resurrect allegations that had already been heard in Brazil.”
José Luis Cutrale is survived by his wife Rosana, three children–Junior, Henrique and Graziela-and six grandchildren. Forbes estimated his fortune at $1.9 billion.