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Smack your lips, America: Those creative juices are flowing! And the biggest beneficiary is the shelf-stable juice aisle, which is seeing its biggest product and packaging innovations in years. The goal is that the scores of low-carb offerings, juice-based energy drinks, retailer- and consumer-friendly square bottles, and single-serve multipack pouches and bottles now hitting store shelves will juice up sales in a category where, to be honest, they've gone a little dry.
According to Chicago-based Information Resources, Inc., juice sales in the supermarket, drug, and mass channels (excluding Wal-Mart) edged up 1.2 percent to $3.74 billion, but volume declined 2.1 percent to 1.86 billion units. "In general we have somewhat of a lackluster performance due to a lack of innovation and new product activity in the fruit beverages category, but I think that's beginning to change," says Gary Hemphill, v.p., information services at Beverage Marketing Corp. in New York. Hemphill notes that most of the share of stomach growth has come in the bottled water category. "Fruit beverages aren't alone in their performance. We're seeing the same thing from carbonated soft drinks, ready-to-drink teas, and dairy," he adds.
Perhaps the most damaging blow to juices has been the popularity of low-carb diets. "There are 30 million to 40 million low-carb dieters out there today, and there aren't a lot of alternatives for those Atkins, South Beach, or Zone dieters in fruit," says Michael McDonald, v.p., sales and marketing at Old Orchard Brands in Sparta, Mich.
That's why Old Orchard has just introduced a five SKU line of Splenda-sweetened juice cocktails in apple, grape, apple cranberry, apple kiwi strawberry, and apple raspberry flavors. "They'll all be 75 percent less in sugar, carbohydrates, and calories than our regular product or any other 100 percent juice product that's out there," McDonald says. He notes that most juices and cocktails have 120 calories and about 30 carbohydrates per serving.
Seeing the light
"Old Orchard Lo Carb will be line-priced and the same price as our regular cocktails," McDonald says. "These are all 25 percent juice with no artificial colors or preservatives, and the same great taste as the regular Old Orchard products. We're playing up the fact that we're 75 percent less. And we're the only ones with a grape product. Period. We're pretty excited."
Private label is also coming up with low-carb offerings. "We recently introduced a line of light drinks in 13 flavors, and we're trying to capture the low- carb craze through the light drinks," says Shawn O'Connell, marketing manager at Seabrook, N.J.-based Clement Pappas & Co., which does about 90 percent of its business in private label, along with its Ruby Kist line of juices and cranberry sauces sold in the specialty and dollar store channels. "There are 10 grams of carbohydrates per serving in all those flavors."
In March Coca-Cola North America is rolling out a new line called Minute Maid Lights, a low-calorie shelf-stable juice drink with the signature Minute Maid taste. Packaged in four-packs of 500 ml PET bottles, they'll be available in Lemonade, Mango Passion, Raspberry Passion, and Guava Citrus flavors. Each has only five calories per eight-ounce serving. "Minute Maid Light Lemonade was launched last year and has been very successful in retail," notes Ray A. Crockett, a spokesman at Coca-Cola's Atlanta headquarters. "Consumers who are concerned about calories and carbs--whether they're on Atkins or other diets--will find these are great refreshers."
"We're in the middle of 'carbmania,'" observes Bruce M. Spurlock, national sales and marketing manager at Mrs. Clark's Foods, a private label and co-packing firm in West Des Moines, Iowa. "We're getting requests to try to revamp and lower the caloric and carbs content of literally all juices," he says, adding that Mrs. Clark's is looking at developing an orange juice cocktail containing 20 percent juice and sweetened with sucralose. "Sucralose is a derivative of sugar with zero calories and zero carbs," Spurlock notes. "You can add it and create a very pleasant-tasting product."
Still, it's hard to mimic the taste of 100 percent juice, and that's why the folks in the R&D lab at Mrs. Clark's are working overtime. "We're looking at every single product we do and looking at changing 100 percent juice to cocktails and, frankly, finding the right mix of juice percentage to give the best taste with the lowest calories."
Spurlock expects the demand for low-carb juices to grow. "Right now, if you're on a low-carb diet all you can drink is diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, diet teas, water, or flavored water. I think flavored waters are hot right now because they're a low-carb alternative to water."
A drawback of low-carb juice, however, is that when you dilute the juice, you also dilute the nutrition benefits it offers. That's the reason manufacturers are now fortifying their juices with extra vitamins. "Old Orchard Lo Carb will have 130 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C," McDonald notes.
Campbell's has taken the novel step of creating energy drinks that are "M'm! M'm! Good!" for you. Marketed under the Invigor8 brand and packaged in an eight-ounce slim can, the energy drinks, a cousin of Campbell's V8 brand, are 100 percent juice, including carrot, but won't be merchandised in the juice aisle. Look for them with the energy drinks.
"We offer two varieties of Invigor8, Energy Boost and Nutrition Boost," says Beth Jolly, manager, brand communications at the Campbell Soup Co. in Camden, N.J. Each features a unique blend of 100 percent juice, with vitamins A, C, B-3 (niacin), B-6, and B-12. "Energy Boost has caffeine and guarana in it and has a light and fruity strawberry/grapefruit flavor, while Nutrition Boost is fortified with vitamin E, calcium, and potassium in a peach/pineapple flavor."
The cans will sell for $1.99 each, and a four-pack will go for $6.99. Invigor8, which debuted in January, will be backed by a somewhat unusual advertising campaign. "The advertising will be more nontraditional," Jolly notes. "It'll be more out of the home with billboards, bus stations, train stations, and that type of thing, and we'll have a national sampling program that will kick off in late spring or early summer."
With their claims of no preservatives or pesticides, organic juices also claim to be good for you, which is why they've been growing in popularity. Clement Pappas has been around for over 60 years, but lately the company's been making inroads into organic juices with its Grown Right and recently acquired Crofter's Organics brands. "We plan to be heavier with the branded on the organics, which is more of a branded arena at this time, while the mainstream arena is going very heavily with private label, and that's where we're having a lot of success," O'Connell says.
The company also eventually expects to have lots of success with blueberry juice, which O'Connell predicts will be the next big trend. "In November, at the PLMA show, we introduced a line of blueberry juice cocktails in three flavors, and people loved the taste of it," he says. "Blueberry is the craze over in organics, and it's gotten some great health press over the last year--almost as much as grape--so we expect consumers to start looking for it in the mainstream aisle."
Bottled grape juice has a history dating back to 1869 when Dr. Thomas Welch invented the first commercial shelf-stable fruit juice, but until recently it often lingered on store shelves as consumers reached for flashier flavors. Then a study came out showing that Concord grape juice is rich in flavinoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the heart and bloodstream. According to the latest IRI figures, grape juice sales are up 10.7 percent, while sales at industry leader Welch's are up 15.5 percent.
At Welch Foods, aptly headquartered in Concord, Mass., Ross Elkin, v.p. of marketing, notes that there's a big difference between Welch's Concord grape juice and store brands of purple grape juice. "Most of the research done on the health benefits of grape juice has been done with Concord grapes," Elkin points out. "If, as a consumer, you're trying to take a more active role in watching what you eat for health benefits, and you're looking for Concord grapes, Welch's is what you want."
Concord grapes primarily grow in Michigan, upstate New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington state, and the Canadian province of Ontario. "Other grapes may not have the same benefits, and many private label juices are made with white grape juice concentrate from cheaper Thompson grapes, red grape juice concentrate, and maybe a little Concord grape juice," he says, adding that government regulations require that just the country of origin be included on the label. "It doesn't have to say what type of grapes are used, just like apple juice doesn't have to tell you if it comes from McIntosh or Cortland apples."
Welch's has expanded its line of juice cocktails with flavors like strawberry, blackberry, and orange/pineapple. The company's latest venture is marketing six-packs of juices and cocktails in resealable 10-ounce polypropylene bottles covered with decorative shrinkwrap. "One of the big trends we're seeing is toward more single-serve bottles for the home," Elkin says. "It's the next stage in the evolution of convenience."
Ocean Spray is also expanding its presence in single-serve. "We've just launched a four-pack of 12-ounce plastic bottles in our core cranberry flavors," says Stu Gallagher, chief marketing officer at Ocean Spray Cranberries in Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass. "We'll also be putting our Ruby Red grapefruit juice product in multipacks."
When it comes to Atkins, Gallagher thinks Ocean Spray has a leg up on the competition because it's been marketing a line of light juices for years, with two-thirds to three-quarters fewer calories than traditional cranberry juices. "You can count on seeing a lot more activity from us along those lines, with new products, advertising, and promotional support behind our light line."
With the exception of some acidic products, such as tomato and pineapple juice, and juices for the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program, just about every juice today comes in a plastic bottle. But now the bottles are changing. "Our Old Orchard Lo Carb will be packaged in a rectangular plastic bottle, and at the same time we'll be converting our entire line over to this package," McDonald says. "It offers 20 percent space savings for both the retailer and the consumer, and packout increases by 20 percent, so the stores can fit more on the shelf." The bottle is also narrower at the "pinch," about one-third of the way down, to make it easier for young children and the elderly to grasp it.
In the packaging arena pouches are another trend to watch as they begin to edge out aseptic juice boxes. Several Minute Maid products are packaged in pouches made by Sonoco. "First and foremost the pouch offers barrier protection so that even a 100 percent juice can be protected against degradation and oxidation," says Jeff Schuetz, director of technology for consumer packaging at Sonoco in Hartsville, S.C. "The consumer advantage is portability, and they're easier to clean up and safer than cans or bottles."
Less litter. Now there's another reason that juice is good for you.