Could Campbell Soup Cos V8 brand spark a renaissance for vegetable drinks?

Could Campbell Soup Co's V8 brand spark a renaissance for vegetable drinks?

Another week, another new commentator on just-drinks. Today, we offer up Richard Corbett, who will be looking at the soft drinks & water sectors. In this, his first piece for just-drinks, Richard looks at vegetable juice and wonders why the category isn't bigger, and whether that is all about to change.

With the exception of the occasional Bloody Mary, many of us have limited contact with vegetable juices. But, this could be set to change as vegetable juice producer the Campbell Soup Co is set to embark on an ambitious roll-out of new products in 2011 with their veggie juice brand V8. This could significantly raise the profile of the vegetable segment of the juice market, which is natural and healthy but handicapped by the fact that many consumers often associate vegetables with eating and not drinking.

Vegetable juices have actually been on the scene for a long time. In fact, the Campbell Soup Co’s V8 brand was first developed as long ago as 1933 when a Mr W.G. Peacock developed a blend of eight juices he called 'Vege-min 8' and then shortened to V8. In many markets the company has a firm foothold and, according to drinks industry research firm Canadean, around 1.5bn litres of vegetable juice were expected to have been drunk around the world in 2010 - that’s not far off global per capita consumption of a quarter of a litre. Interest in them is far from uniform, however, and consumption varies widely by market from virtually nil to as much as 4.5 litres per capita in Poland. In Japan, vegetable drinks have such a strong following that one, Kagome's Yasai Seikatsu brand, is even available in McDonalds.

This stigma over perception and taste is a considerable barrier to overcome in markets where these juice products remain relatively unexplored. But, clearing that hurdle could provide rich pickings for vegetable drinks. Back in the late 1990s, when the youthful founders of Innocent Drinks were developing their own smoothie concept, part of their thinking was to bring a drink to the market that not only tasted good but was actually good for you. Few products both ticked the wellness box and tasted good - this was undoubtedly an important contributor to the spectacular popularity of the Innocent brand. In today’s health-conscious marketplace, good taste and healthy attributes make for very lucrative bed partners. Vegetable juice is unquestionably healthy and actually tastes surprisingly good, but more consumers just need to be persuaded to try them. 

The global message from the World Health Authority, that we must consume 400 grammes of fruit or vegetables a day, has proved effective. The five-a-day message (six in the case of Denmark or the 5+ a Day message in Australasia), has educated consumers about the importance of a daily intake of fruit & veg. It was this message, coupled with a concept borrowed from the probiotic shot segment, that gave birth to the fruit/vegetable shot.

The fruit/vegetable shot phenomena seems to have originated from the Netherlands and quickly expanded to a wider and more diverse audience; in Sweden, Knorr Vie even won the Nielsen new product of the year in 2006. Consumers, in Western Europe were quick to embrace this short cut to their five-a-day and sales in this part of the world reached well over 18m litres in 2007, equating to just over 180m shots.

Something did not quite click though and, since 2007, the fortunes of the fruit & vegetable shot market have waned. So, if probiotic shots have prospered, why did these fruit & veg shots begin to fall out of favour? A relatively high price in gloomy economic times may have been a factor; did people want them to deliver more refreshment in one hit in the same way that a smoothie does? It probably did not help that 15cl of 100% fruit or vegetable juice counts for just one of your ‘five-a-day’; drink any more and your portion tally does not rise for the day. Effectively, you can only drink one of your daily portions because juice contains less fibre than whole fruits and vegetables. What the initial success of these shots did highlight, however, was how the message about fruit and vegetable consumption has hit home; most consumers in Western Europe are sufficiently conscious of the merits and positive impact of vegetable consumption to be prepared to act on the advice. 

Vegetable juice should be up there with any of the ‘superfruits’ like cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate juice - delivering enhancement in the most natural way. These juices, along with the more niche Acai berry, Goji, or even Sea buckthorn, are attracting a rapidly growing audience, which vegetable juice is entitled to compete for. Vegetable juices can lay claim to being every bit as ‘super’ in terms of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These credentials do need to be presented and communicated in a different and more aggressive way to exploit the new wave of healthy drinkers. It may sound a bit like a second world war bomb but the Campbell Soup Co may well be onto to a good thing with their plans for their V8 brand.

If I can find no evidence of Brussels sprouts, I may even drink it myself.