After the Sunny D controversy, the juice drink sector must strive to convince consumers of its health benefits and role as an alternative to high-sugar, carbonated brands

As the Brits have become more and more concerned with leading a healthy lifestyle, and in turn what they let pass their lips, so juice drinks manufacturers have had to keep on their toes to convince the population to keep buying into the sector.
The vast negative publicity around the former mighty Sunny D, which highlighted to consumers that juice drinks are not 100% pure fruit, has not made it any easier.
The juice drinks market has been hit by an increased demand for healthier, low-sugar products by mothers’ concern for their kids, while regular sugar variants such as Sunny D have lost out.
Despite all the controversy, the sector proved buoyant last year - juice drinks drove the market, growing at 10% in value
terms. This is a shift in fortunes for pure juices, says Lynn Osbourne, grocery insights controller at PepsiCo, who insists fruit juices have consistently grown ahead of juice varieties. “Only cranberry juice drinks do well and this is because they have to have sugar added for the drink to work.”
Cranberry brands, including Gerber Foods’ range of white cranberry combinations, launched under its Ocean Spray banner in January 2004, have without doubt boosted sales of juice drinks.
In its first year on shelf, the initial three-strong white cranberry-based range - including white cranberry & peach, white cranberry & apple and white cranberry & grape - clocked up sales of £3.9m [ACNielsen 52 w/e January 15, 2005]. According to Gerber Foods, sales of which have “exceeded all expectations”. Two new flavours, white cranberry & lychee, and white cranberry blend, were added to the range at the start of this year.
Sunny D, though, is still struggling and has yet to turn its fortunes around. Although the juice drink remains the nation’s second-favourite thirst quencher when it comes to chilled fruit juice drinks, sales of the long-suffering brand dropped a huge 13.1% to £39m last year [ACNielsen 52 w/e October 2, 2004]. And this despite hard work to position itself as a healthier alternative to fizzy brands with clearer juice, sugar and vitamin C content on packs.
But, according to Gerber Foods, this is not the end of the road for the former sector giant: “Sunny D has already improved its formulation by increasing the juice content threefold and launching a no-added-sugar range, and brand equity studies are showing a positive shift in perception,” says Colin Davis, marketing controller for Ocean Spray.
However, Laura Kingsman, trading manager for juices and smoothies at Musgrave Budgens-Londis, thinks it will take more for the brand to reverse its fortunes: “Sunny D suffered badly from negative publicity and it will continue to decline as health awareness increases. “Price is another factor - chilled juice has come down in price and the differential between it and Sunny D is less significant.”