The latest crush

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Related tags: Juice, Vitamin c

Over the past five years sales of smoothies and juice drinks have soared. But how can drinks companies sustain this growth for another five? Stefan Chomka reports

As owner of one of the UK's largest blenders of juices, supplying all the major multiples with blends for own-label as well as for branded goods, Berryman knows a thing or two about juice drink trends. DBL processes 90m litres of juice a year and is the largest blender of apple juice in the UK. Around a third of all apple juice consumed in this country comes out of the company's plant at Kensworth, Bedfordshire.

DBL has been at the forefront of the juice industry at a time when consumption of fresh juice in the UK has grown considerably -- partly because of the growing popularity of not- from-concentrate (NFC) juices and the smoothie's rise to fame.

Drinks consultancy Zenith International says the UK smoothie market was worth £69m in 2003 and it forecasts that by 2008 it will have more than doubled to be worth over £150m.

Yet, despite the inexorable growth of smoothies, Berryman believes the biggest opportunities lie in fruit juice drinks that contain added water. "Fruit consumption is going up, but it's not necessarily going up in straight juices," he says.

According to new product development (NPD) director at DBL Maria Cabrera, the market for still fruit drinks is growing at the expense of NFC juices because of the better refreshment they offer. "After sport, for example, you want something you can drink easily, such as the lower juice content drinks," she says.

Gary Roethenbaugh, research director at Zenith International, agrees. "The exceptionally hot summer of 2003 had only a limited impact on smoothies. Parched consumers tended not to choose smoothies for refreshment, preferring instead water or other soft drinks," he says.

What is changing, however, is the fruit content of these juice drinks. Whereas consumers used to be happy with drinks that simply tasted of fruit, now they are demanding juice drinks that have a high juice content, such a nectars and crushes. "About 10 years ago we had requests to blend 5% juice drinks -- 10% if we were really pushing it," says Cabrera. "Now we're getting requests for 30-50% juice drinks."

As well as being more refreshing, Berryman believes high juice crushes will become more popular as companies start to use fruits that cannot be drunk in their pure form, such as cranberry, which requires the addition of water. "Cranberry is an undrinkable juice, it's very acidic and very bitter," he says. "It's not something you can really drink on its own."

Not that cranberries are unique. Most red fruits require the addition of water or other juices to make them palatable. And, seeing as red is the new black, crush style drinks are the format they will be available in.

So why are red fruits so in vogue? The answer lies in the fruits' naturally high levels of antioxidant.

"Antioxidant is going to become the buzz word," says Berryman. "You will see more and more soft drinks and juices which contain red fruit and which have antioxidants. In the next five years we're going to see a growth in this kind of drink."

According to Berryman, consumers are already clued up about antioxidants in red fruit. He points to the success of cranberry juice drinks as an example, where sales have rocketed because of the health benefits associated with them.

While Ocean Spray, the largest cranberry juice drink supplier, doesn't make any health claims about its drinks, it has benefited from the hype that surrounds the fruit, he says.

Vitamins

Red fruits also contain higher amounts of vitamin C -- itself an antioxidant -- than citrus fruits. For example, 100g of strawberries, which are often considered to be the most innocuous of the red fruits, contain more vitamin C than the same quantity of oranges, a fruit which many consumers still hold as the major single source of the vitamin.

The high content of vitamin C in red fruits has sparked a race to find a fruit with the highest quantities, says Cabrera.

"There is a great surge in innovation in looking for the next fruit," she says. "Every year a fruit with a higher content of vitamin C is found. The challenge is to incorporate it into something that is palatable or include it in a known product and make it more mainstream."

Past fruits that companies have used include acerola cherries, which contain up to six times the amount of vitamin C found in oranges. According to Cabrera, the latest fruit is the camu camu berry, which has 10 times the vitamin C content of oranges.

DBL is not alone in this train of thought. Smoothie company Innocent also believes there is a lot of mileage in drinks with high antioxidant levels.

In November Innocent launched a drink called Vitamin C, which as well as containing rosehips and blackcurrants has acerola cherries in the recipe.

NPD manager at Innocent Lucy Ede says there has been an explosion in demand for healthy drinks with antioxidants. "Con-sumers are more aware of fruit with antioxidant properties," she says. "Blueberries, cranberries, boysenberries are all becoming more popular."

Another recent edition to the company's portfolio is its Fruit & Veg smoothie (carrot, mango and orange) originally launched as a healthy seasonal line but which Innocent has now added to its portfolio full-time in response to consumer demand. "As well as being healthy, the vegetable smoothie shows that people are still prepared to try something new," says Ede.

Nor is it just the consumers that are adventurous; juice companies themselves are some of the most innovative in food and drink. Innocent, for example, develops four seasonal blends a year, each only available for three months, which allows it to be creative without having to add lots of new lines.

"The seasonal slot means we can afford to try something that little bit different," says Ede. "Sales of our seasonal smoothies are huge after their launch, but the challenge is to make people keep picking them up. There will be a lot more innovative slots in future."

Children's smoothies

One such innovation that the company is busy working on is a range of smoothies for children. Because of their indulgence properties, smoothies tend to be mainly consumed by adults, yet with issues surrounding healthy alternatives to carbonated drinks, Ede sees huge potential in targeting kids.

Innocent is to launch the children's range early next year and is working on flavour combinations. While Ede says the drinks are likely to have a sweeter profile to suit children's tastes, they won't just be in the mainstream flavours. Lychee, for example, is one fruit that Innocent is working with for the range. "Children are quite adventurous," she says.

While Innocent would like to launch its children's drinks earlier than next year, both itself and DBL concede that there is more to juice NPD than meets the eye. Innocent's Fruit & Veg smoothie was three years in the making as the company had to track down alternative carrots when it found standard ones did not have much of a flavour after juicing. It finally found the answer in baby carrots, which provide a more intense carrot flavour.

Ede's current challenge is to create a kiwi smoothie, which is proving tricky as the fruit's seeds leave a very bitter taste when crushed. A kiwi smoothie is particularly sought after because, like Berryman, Ede believes that green is a fashionable colour.

"I'd like to do a smoothie that is bright green to go with the other colours we have," she says. "Consumers buy with their eyes."

For DBL, rowan berries have proved troublesome. While the fruit gives a good, bitter taste they are difficult to process because of their low water content, says Berryman. Extract of aloe vera causes another headache as it can become stringy during pasteurisation, he says.

To cope with these challenges, DBL has created a NPD consultancy called Creative Juices which helps companies experiment with different fruits. And, as the market becomes more competitive, the blends become more interesting, says Berryman.

"Over the past three years people have come in with a fixed idea about what extract they want to incorporate into their drinks. It used to be mundane ingredients, but now they are becoming more extraordinary, and that's the challenge."

One such company is RJA, for which Creative Juices developed the pomegranate juice Pomegreat. Before approaching DBL, RJA could not achieve a blend of the fruit that was suitable for the UK market (see Food Manufacture, July 2004, p34).

Cabrera developed a blend using fruit extracts, water, aronia berries and vitamins to take away the bitterness of the pomegranate but without altering the flavour too much. This was achieved by using a flavour that people associate with the fruit, but that does not reflect its true taste, using what she calls "fantasy flavours"

"Pomegranate is a bit like cranberry," says Cabrera. "People won't recognise what it is necessarily so you look at fantasy type flavours that give the perception of what pomegranate might taste like."

RJA has just launched a blueberry variant of the drink -- called Pome-Blue -- also maximising on the antioxidant properties of the fruit. It says the high concentration of naturally occurring polyphenols found in blueberries helps to combat heart disease and fight high cholesterol.

The drink has already won the endorsement of the heart association, Heart UK.

More juice drinks like Pomegreat are inevitably destined for the market, as they offer all the health benefits of a smoothie but without the thick and more filling texture.

"The pursuit of smoothness was the initial selling point, but what that did was introduce a blend of different juices in a bottle to make a good drink," says Berryman.

"People who want something less gloopy and refreshing are creating a demand for juice drinks. They will be the second generation of smoothies."

Belvoir Fruit Farms also believes this is the way forward for juices.

In July the company launched a range of drinks called Crush designed to align the smoothie and juice drinks market.

Md Peverel Manners says the new drinks, available in Blackberry & Apple, Apple & Quince, Pear & Redcurrant, and Rhubarb & Ginger, are like smoothies but thinner and more thirst quenching. Made with 50% NFC juices, they have added water and concentrated grape juice.

"We are trying to bridge the gap between smoothies and fruit drinks," says Manners.

While Ede at Innocent says the company has no intention of making its smoothies thinner, it has just launched them in cartons, possibly to compete with thinner juice blends in the chillers.

The company also produces fruit crushes to meet the growing demand for lighter, more refreshing drinks.

So while the market for smoothies will continue to grow, demand for more interesting flavours will herald a new generation of juice drinks and crushes.

This time, though, instead of being perceived as an indulgent alternative to NFCs, they will be regarded as equally healthy stable mates. FM

GOURMET GUIDE

Cumin

Origin: The spice cumin comes from the fruit (often called the seed) of Cuminum cyminum L., an annual in the parsley family which is cultivated in India, China, the Middle East and Mediterranean countries. The light brown, striped, hairy seeds have a heavy warm spicy aroma and a powerful, slightly bitter flavour when ground. Its use goes back at least five millennia as seeds have been found inside the Egyptian pyramids. It is mentioned in the Bible (Isaiah xxvii. 25 and 27, and Matthew xxiii. 23) and was written about by the Greeks and the Romans. Pliny said the ancients took the ground seed medicinally with bread, water or wine and used it cosmetically to induce a pallid complexion. Its use continued to spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

Production: Cumin is grown from seed mainly in hot climates, but it can be grown in cooler regions under glass. The plants bloom in June and July and the seeds are ready some four months after planting.

Medicinal properties: Herbalists describe cumin as a diuretic, carminative, stimulant, astringent and antispasmodic. It is said to be a cure for dyspepsia, diarrhoea and hoarseness, and may relieve flatulence and colic. In the West, it is used mainly in veterinary medicine, as a carminative, but it is still a traditional herbal remedy in the East.

Culinary uses: The spice stimulates appetite and is commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Portuguese and Spanish cuisine. For example, it is used in curry powder and stews, and in spicy Mexican foods such as chilli con carne. It can add flavour to rice, beans and cakes, and is used to spice sausages and cheese, especially Dutch Leyden and German Munster. It is also used in the pickling of cabbage and sauerkraut, in chutneys and can be found in mulligatawny soup.

It even features in beverages. Indians drink a beverage of cumin and tamarind water known as zeera pani, while cumin and caraway are used to flavour the German liqueur Kummel.

Related topics: NPD

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