RUSH'S JUICE ADS SPAWN STILL MORE SEEDS OF DISCORD

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Orange juice sales may not be affected by protests against Rush Limbaugh's ads for the Florida Citrus Commission, but the controversy is getting juicier.

In March, the state Senate held up a routine confirmation hearing for three commission appointees because of protests, led by Democratic Sen. Peter Weinstein, about using the conservative radio personality.

Then Republican Sen. Toni Jennings introduced legislation that would make it a crime to "disparage" Florida's fruit. The bill passed the House and Senate, and is before Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Now the National Organization for Women is talking with other groups about expanding protests against the commission's $1 million buy on Mr. Limbaugh's radio talk show into a national organized boycott against Florida orange juice.

The buy began in February and is part of a $17.1 million campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York, that includes spots on two other national radio talk shows.

But it is the commission's relationship with Mr. Limbaugh-who likes to refer to feminists as "femi-Nazis"-that has NOW talking with the likes of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Planned Parenthood and the Florida Commission on the Status of Women about boycotting Florida orange juice. NOW's national board meets this weekend, and the group will decide sometime later whether to intensify local protests.

It's still too soon to know whether NOW and others' distaste for Mr. Limbaugh has caused a sales drop for brands supplied by Florida growers, including Coca-Cola Foods' Minute Maid and Seagram Beverage Cos.' Tropicana. Nor is it known if competitors have gained.

Retailers report some shoppers have stopped buying Florida orange juice. But others have increased purchases in a show of support for Mr. Limbaugh.

Regardless of that, sales haven't been the main point of Mr. Limbaugh's detractors, said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Our focus is to get a change in the commission's makeup. It is now comprised of 11 men and one woman, all white. They reflect a very narrow perspective."

A spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission acknowledged growing debate over the use of Mr. Limbaugh.

When the commission fired previous pitchman Burt Reynolds because of controversy about his divorce from Loni Anderson, 30 people called to comment. But as of March 29, 11,608 calls, letters and faxes on Mr. Limbaugh had been received. There were 6,341 against, 5,265 for and two undecided.

"We're still using Mr. Limbaugh, although we continue to review the situation," said the spokeswoman. She added, however, that his contract with the commission is up in August and a renewal won't be automatic. "No decision has been made yet," she said.

The controversy has taken some unusual turns. Mike Loudon, director of marketing and advertising for Sunkist Growers, said the cooperative of West Coast orange producers has received calls from people posing as major Florida retailers looking to delist Florida orange products.

"In researching what we thought might be a sales opportunity, we found no truth to the calls," he said. "We haven't seen significant case movement because of the Florida controversy."

Mr. Loudon called the situation "positive for the industry. It's a controversy, and controversies are wonderful things because they get a product's name out there."

Orange juice could use some help. Sales of frozen products were down 15.5% to $758.1 million for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 27, according to Information Resources. Refrigerated juices were down 1.3% to $2 billion.M

Jeffery D. Zbar contributed to this story.

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