The juices category is drenched in health credentials, with many consumers substituting a trip to the gym with not from concentrate juice lines and smoothies. Gail Hunt reports

Let's face it, drinking juice is a whole lot easier than going to the gym as a way of treating your body like a temple and, as Innocent puts it, smoothies have "all the virtue of a long jog but with none of the chaffing".

It is certainly boom time for both sides of the market, with consumers buying into lavish health messages throughout the sector. TNS figures show the juices and smoothies market grew by 7.6% to £829m in the latest year [52 w/e January 29, 2006].

Orange, apple and pineapple juices are all performing well, although cranberry and grapefruit variants are in decline. Ambient products still account for about 60% of the market but chilled is booming, with many consumers trading up from ambient and buying not from concentrate (NFC) products.

However, the sunshine sector is not without its darker areas. Some producers are keen to lambast rival products for "misleading" consumers and not being healthy enough. Others - Innocent in particular - are campaigning about the VAT law that means fruit is tax-free, but when pressed into a smoothie is taxed at 17.5%.

There is also still debate about whether consumers really know what NFC means.

Michael Luck, juices and smoothies buyer at Sainsbury, for one, believes customers do not understand the difference between from concentrate and NFC. Instead, he says, they make a purchase based on usage occasions.

"Consumers are confused by the industry definitions of a product, but not by the options available," he adds.
Andy Leslie, commercial director at Gerber Foods Soft Drinks, also accepts that there is confusion between the two. However, he says consumers believe NFC is better quality.

While there's little doubt that consumers are demanding healthier, NFC juices, some industry players believe that some brands aren't as healthy, or as natural, as they claim.

Josephine Carpenter, founder and managing director at The Big J, says drinks that claim to be pure but contain added water or ingredients are duping consumers.

She believes that a smoothie should be defined as 100% pure fruit and adopt the same guidelines as 100% pure juice: "Anything that is added to dilute or artificially enhance is not pure and, in the case of smoothies, should be labelled as a 'smoothie drink'," she says.

Carpenter is calling for tighter legal definitions of a smoothie to stop consumers being misled: "Currently there is no legal definition of a smoothie, which has allowed cheap imposters to infiltrate the market, charge pure smoothie prices and confuse consumers."

Kevin Gould, creator of the newly-launched I Am Fresh brand, also has strong views and says his range has been developed in response to "misleading claims from certain smoothie manufacturers". Gould's drinks - which come in pineapple; pear, apple & kiwi fruit; pineapple, mango & passion fruit; and yoghurt, banana, apple & acacia honey - are not from concentrate or purées but use 100% fresh fruit.

"I Am Fresh is the answer to the short cuts, cynical fibs and half-truths employed by branded juices to dupe the consumer," he says.

"Juice drinkers are not stupid and absolutely hate finding out that they have been misled."

Despite being critical of some 'pure' claims, Carpenter is strong in defence of ambient juice, which, she says still has an important role to play and is also unhappy by what she describes as "the demonisation" of juices made from concentrate.

"Some manufacturers imply that juices or smoothies from concentrate are the 'Devil's spawn'," she says.

Carpenter reckons that it is not about whether a product is from concentrate that matters, but whether it is healthy or meets a particular consumer need. As long as juice manufacturers continue to make products that tick either the convenience, lifestyle or indulgence boxes, she says, the market will grow.

Robert Neal, head of fresh foods at Spar UK, is of a similar opinion. He says that within Spar, from concentrate juices are growing, although he can see evidence of consumers trading up to chilled.

Consumers are also increasingly turning to organic drinks, which many perceive as being the ultimate in healthy products, according to Gerber's Leslie.

"There is a huge quest for organic juice at the moment and we will definitely see growth in this area," he says.

Princes launched an organic chilled fruit juice last year to meet this rising demand, but admits it had to get the pricing right. With many deals and bogofs in the smoothies category, consumers are used to paying less for high-quality drinks. "We came up with an organic product that is fairly priced," says marketing director David Patmore.

Karen O'Neill, marketing director at RDA Organic, adds: "Three years ago, any move towards organics was on the back of food scares. But today there is an active drive towards organics on the basis of health and also taste."

Top chilled fruit juice
By value

1 Tropicana
2 Sunny D
3 Innocent
4 Copella
5 PJ Smoothies
6 Ocean Spray
7 Grove Fresh 
8 Minute Maid
9 Welch's 
10 Princes 

Real Source: ACNIELSEN

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Focus on Juices & Smoothies (April 2006)