How can the juice segment avoid soft drinks' sugar war? - NPD round-up
By Tom Vierhile, Innovation Insights Director at Canadean | 24 November 2015
It is well known that carbonated soft drinks have a sugar - and obesity - problem that has led to steady sales erosion over the past decade. Less well known is that juice is suffering as much, if not more, from many of the same issues. With consumers souring on beverages perceived to be high in sugar, juice makers are beginning to innovate their way out of the problem, with dilution and carbonation emerging as new ways for juice-makers to address juice's sugar conundrum.
In her new book, 'Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (And Winning)', author Marion Nestle makes the tobacco-esque case that CSDs are strongly correlated with myriad health issues and that "regular sodas" account for one-third of all sugar consumed in the American diet. Ms Nestle blames CSDs for contributing to poor dental hygiene, higher calorie intake, obesity and type-2 diabetes, all of which are accusations that CSD makers have become increasingly familiar with over the years.
There is little doubt that the type of health advocacy practiced by Marion Nestle and others has contributed to declining soft drink consumption. In the US alone, per-capita consumption of CSDs has fallen over 25% in the last decade, according to Canadean.
But, over the same time period, juice consumption has actually experienced a steeper dive, having been overshadowed by the CSD meltdown. According to Canadean, per-capita consumption of juice in the US between 2004 and 2014 declined by over 31%. Some of this decline can be traced to consumers skipping breakfast, a meal where juice is often king or queen. But, there is more to it than that, with juice being painted with the sugary drinks brush. Indeed, 'Soda Politics' talks about "emerging targets for sugary drinks advocacy" with recommendations like removing soft drinks from childrens' menus at restaurants or putting warning labels on soft drink packages. The breadth of the phrase "sugary drinks advocacy" goes beyond CSDs, to leave the door open for fruit juices and drinks that contain relatively high levels of sugar (natural or added) compared to beverages like plain bottled water.
Sugar is very much top-of-mind for consumers and governments alike. Earlier this month, the US Food & Drug Administration recommended a cap on sugar consumption of about 50 grams a day. Already, 28% of US consumers (per a Canadean 2014 survey) say they are either "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about the prospect of consuming "too much sugar" – a number that may climb with government intervention.
Concern is especially acute for what is likely the core market for fruit juices and drinks – women between the ages of 25 to 34 – since this group is in the thick of the child-rearing years and may be more cognisant of making healthful food and drink choices for themselves and their families than consumers in other life stages. Around 15% of these consumers say they are "extremely concerned" about sugar – more than twice the percentage of consumers of all ages.
One of the more high-profile product launches to take on the sugar issue is Juicy Juice Splashers, a 2015 launch from Stamford, CT-based Harvest Hill Beverage Co, which is owned by Brynwood Partners. The company acquired Juicy Juice from Nestle in June, 2014 as the latter witnessed a near-halving of the brand's sales in the seven years prior to offloading it. Splashers is described as a "refreshing blend of fruit juice and filtered water" with half the sugar of the leading juice and no high-fructose corn syrup. Sweetened only with fruit juice, the drink contains 50% juice. The launch complements Harvest Hills' Juicy Juice Fruitifuls Juice Beverage, a drink box-packaged 100% juice mixed with water that has 35% less sugar than regular juice. Fruitifuls was launched in August, 2012 when the Juicy Juice brand was still under Nestle's stewardship.
Carbonation may be another way for the juice category to get its mojo back. The bubbles are certainly working for bottled water, with flavoured carbonated water enjoying sales volume growth in 2014 of over 12% in the US, according to Canadean. Helping pump that number up is Coca-Cola's Dasani Sparkling Water, a 2014 launch in flavours like lemon, lime and black cherry. Pleased with this launch, Coca-Cola is going the sparkling route again with Glaceau Smartwater Sparkling, which is just now trickling into major markets prior to a broader launch in 2016.
If carbonation works so well for water, can it also work for juice? Coca-Cola is set to test the theory with a new carbonated version of its Minute Maid juice brand. The drink will reportedly contain 6% juice, which is somewhat underwhelming given the brand's juice category roots. But, Minute Maid Sparkling is positioned as a replacement for Coca-Cola's Glaceau Fruitwater product and is more of a 'juicy water' than a true carbonated juice, which makes its own statement about where juice innovation is headed these days.
Regardless, this continues the brand's flirtation with carbonation that has been going on since the mid-1980s. At that time, Coca-Cola debuted a Minute Maid soda with 10% juice, eventually tweaking the juice content from 2% to 8% juice over its run. Minute Maid soda was cut from Coca-Cola's line-up in 2005 so that the group could focus more on its Fanta brand.
Other ways to cut the sugar content of juice, without resorting to the use of artificial sweeteners, include blending fruit juice with vegetable juice or tea. For the former, cold-pressed juice pioneer Suja Life says that its Suja Essentials Organic Green Delight and Organic Mighty Greens beverages have an average of 35% less sugar than the leading national juice brands. Both variants blend juices like apple, banana and mango with greens like kale and spinach.
Tea married with juice is yet another way to reduce sugar levels. One example of this trend is Drazil Kids Tea, which is marketed as an alternative to 100% juice in the US, where the product (in a kid-friendly brand name which is "lizard" spelled backwards) blends caffeine-free herbal tea like rooibos with fruits like strawberry and grape. Sold in kid-centric Punch Passion and Yummy Berry flavours (among others), Drazil contains 45% juice with no added sugar and has 50 calories per serving. The company was founded by Christine Wheeler, a former Procter & Gamble brand manager who sensed a business opportunity in the wake of slipping interest in 100% juice from parents.
What these and other launches prove is that juice makers don't necessarily have to take the artificial sweetener or natural high-intensity sweetener route to rein in sugar contents. That in itself is probably a good thing, since consumer enthusiasm for artificial sweeteners is nearly as tepid as it is for sugar itself.
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