Fruit juice companies are set to launch a major fightback against attacks from the health lobby, sparked by plunging sales caused by the war on sugar.

Having become, alongside fizzy drinks, a prime target for health campaigners, the campaign will bring together rivals including PepsiCo-owned Tropicana and Coca-Cola’s Innocent, in a bid to challenge what they claim are “exaggerated reports” by the likes of Action on Sugar.

This week The Grocer’s Top Products Survey revealed that juices and smoothies have suffered devastating losses amid the health scare, with sales down £69.4m (3.5%). Heaviest hit were market leaders Innocent and Tropicana down £24.6m and £18.3m respectively.

The Grocer can reveal that a campaign will be launched in the New Year, led by Tropicana and Innocent but also involving other fruit juice and smoothie manufacturers, as well as the British Fruit Juice Association and the British soft drinks Association.

It will include commissioning research to highlight the nutritional benefits of the products, and will challenge claims made by campaigners.

A concerted effort will also be made to lobby government, with the place of fruit juice and smoothies on the Eatwell Plate, and on the recommended 5-a-day advice from the government, under threat.

“Groups like Action on Sugar have been relentless and they are clearly prepared to be selective with the facts and not give consumers the full picture,” said a PepsiCo spokesman, who said that preserving the 5-a-day status was a key aim of the campaign.

“The industry has ­traditionally ducked this issue in January because it’s been seen as whistling in the wind to get the message across,” said one industry source.

“But the alternative is that it is left to the health lobby, which as well as being damaging for brands will cause mass consumer confusion.”

“The climate is ­absolutely right for a sector-wide fightback against the flawed evidence which is often being produced,” added Douglas Lamont, CEO of Innocent.

Fruit juice and smoothies have attracted much negative publicity in the past year as a result of concerns about sugar.

In June, Public Health England said it would be reviewing its ­guidance on products such as smoothies and fruit juice on the back of a report by SACN, which called for the UK to halve its ­recommended daily limit for sugar consumption.

Before that, in March, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies had called for a sugar tax to be put on products including juice, while other prominent scientists, including Dr Susan Jebb who chairs the Responsibility Deal food network, likened fruit juice to Coca-Cola due to its sugar content.