The sophisticated health-conscious consumer with an adventurous palate is driving diversity in the vast juice and juice drinks category. Annette Sessions looks at the wide and ever broadening panoply of flavours and ingredient options available across the juice market.

Two recent market reports demonstrate the mercurial state of the juice market. On the one hand, Mintel states that in the UK sales of chilled, premium juices have "boomed" whilst, on the other, Canadean reports that the global juice and nectars market is losing momentum. Canadean further forecasts that juice consumption will slow dramatically by 2007, but that nectars will advance rapidly. Overall, it expects the juice and nectars market to expand by a little over 8% between 2004 and 2007.

What is the difference between a juice and nectar? 'Juice' is a 100% pure fruit juice either freshly squeezed, not from concentrate or from concentrate, whereas a 'nectar', says Canadean, is any drink with less than 100% juice content and more than a 25% juice content; other analysts might classify nectars as juice drinks. Juice drinks per se will encompass smoothies and nudge up against functional drinks if the beverage has a high fruit juice base and has been fortified with added-value ingredients.

Western European countries are unique in classifying nectars as a category in its own right vying for 'share of throat', with Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria having the highest per capita consumption figures. When it comes to 100% juices Germany heads the table followed by Finland, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. Juice has performed well in Germany fuelled by own label products and the fact it has been used as a substitute for carbonates which are liable for deposit tax.

Although globally it remained the largest market in 2003 with a 30.2% share, juice consumption in North America has been in decline since 2002 partly because supporters of the Atkins diet classified juices as high carbohydrate products.

The industry is now fighting back. The Florida Department of Citrus last April unveiled an advertising campaign aimed at the over-35s who are sceptical of fad diets and prefer to "do the right thing" by taking a common approach to health and nutrition. A glass of Florida orange juice is "a daily dose of wellness" is the tagline.

Brands are promoting the same healthy message. Tropicana was the first in the US to introduce a reduced calorie and reduced sugar orange juice 'Light 'n Healthy, in response to obesity concerns, followed by Light 'n Healthy with Pulp for those consumers who prefer more texture. Tropicana Inc. has just linked up with Weight Watchers whereby its 'Points' value information is listed on the packaging of the Light 'n Healthy range.

Its US rival Minute Maid is currently collaborating with WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, to help raise awareness of the No. 1 killer of women in America. Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise claims to be the only orange juice clinically proven to help reduce cholesterol. Ten cents from each purchase of specially labelled cartons - up to $100,000 - has been donated to WomenHeart.

Further news on juices' heath credentials and a boost to cranberry juice comes from France where the AFSSA, the French government's food safety authority, has extended its approval of the North American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) as a healthy ingredient. In a new ruling, issued on December 3 2004, AFSSA (Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Aliments), confirmed that the regular consumption of certain cranberry juices and cordials "helps reduce the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to the urinary tract walls".

In the UK, where Mintel predicts the premium juice market will continue to grow and be worth almost £3 billlion by 2009, Tropicana has just relaunched its healthy range under the name Essentials with the support of a £1.5m media spend. This comprises Multivitamins, a blend of 12 fruit juices with five extra vitamins; Calcium, orange juice with added calcium for healthy bones and teeth; and Fibre, four fruits and carrot juice with extra fibre. At the same time, a new variant has been introduced: Tropicana Essentials Low Acid (orange juice with 30% less acidity).

Health concerns are not confined to western continents. In South Africa, for example, the Aquabrosia brand has introduced a juice drink which combines spring water from the Franschhoek Mountains of the Western Cape, pure fruit juice and the botanical extracts of sunflower, sesame and tarragon. The Berry and Melon variants come in a stylish 300ml PET bottle with a black cap. This, according to the producer, Food Trace Technology, is designed to convey the natural balance and positive health benefits associated with Aquabrosia.

Claimed to be the first drink in South Africa to be endorsed by three separate health associations, Aquabrosia bottles carry the logos of Diabetics South Africa and the Heart Foundation of South Africa as well as the 'often foods' logo of the Glycemic Index Foundation of South Africa.

Health issues apart, new product development centres around more adventurous flavours and flavour combinations. Orange and apple respectively might still retain their lead as the world's favourite juice flavours, but other more exotic fruits such as kiwi, guava, pawpaw and passion fruit are becoming increasingly popular. Take, for instance, the range of chilled juices from Welch's, which includes Purple Grape & Passion Fruit. A Grape Mango & Passion Fruit variant has just been added.

Watch out, too, for the increasing use of vegetables in juice blends, especially carrot and beetroot. New from Tipco Foods in Thailand is Squeeze Veggie, a 100% pasteurised beetroot and mixed fruit drink. The drink features 50% beetroot juice and is being promoted, not surprisingly, to the health-conscious consumer.

The most obscure of all, however, is sauerkraut juice. It might have an acquired taste, but this fermented cabbage juice is said to be rich in substances called isothiocynates which protect against cancer and phytochemicals with aphrodisiacal properties, an attractive functional duo.