Carb Comedown

Seeing light at the end of the low-carb tunnel, juice manufacturers prepare an onslaught of new products.
by Julie Cook Ramirez
Picture this: You’re a manufacturer of a product that’s just bursting with natural goodness. Over the years, scientific studies have proven a bevy of health benefits related to consumption of your product.
People take to the product, and for many, it becomes a staple, a regular component of their daily regimen.
But in spite of all the positive health news, nothing ever happens to really ignite consumption.
Then, after a decade of unchecked indulgence, people suddenly become health and weight conscious.
Unfortunately, it’s not fat that people have chosen to obsess about — it’s the carbohydrates. As fate would have it, your product is not only bursting with nutrients, it’s full of carbs. Consequently, sales fall and you find yourself watching health-conscious people shun your healthy product.
That’s exactly the fate suffered by juice manufacturers since the dawn of the low-carb craze. Once considered by many to be the elixir of good health, juices have taken quite a blow due to their relatively high carb content.
Overall, sales of refrigerated juices fell 2.9 percent in dollars and 2.3 percent in units during the 52-week period ending October 31, 2004, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI). Bottled juice sales didn’t fare much better, dropping 1.1 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
“Like most other industries confronting this whole carbohydrate thing, we are looking to that as being a lot of the reason that juice sales are trending down,” says Sam Austin, director of marketing, Johanna Foods Inc., Flemington, N.J.
Orange juice, in particular, has experienced a significant setback as a result of its high carbohydrate content. According to IRI, bottled orange juice sales plummeted 28.5 percent in dollars and 32.8 percent in units, while refrigerated orange juice sales fell 4.6 and 3.1 percent, respectively.
Many juice manufacturers have responded with low-carb alternatives. Bradenton, Fla.-based Tropicana, a division of PepsiCo, launched Tropicana Essentials Light ‘n Healthy, containing one-third less sugar and calories than regular orange juice. Meanwhile, Houston-based Minute Maid, a division of The Coca-Cola Co., launched Minute Maid Light, a line of low-calorie/low-carb juice drinks.
In Port Washington, N.Y., Apple & Eve launched Light & Fruitful, a line of low-carb juice beverages in 64-ounce PET bottles and 16-ounce single-serve bottles. Sweetened with Splenda®, each flavor contains at least two-thirds fewer calories than traditional juice blends and no more than 9 grams of carbs.
  $ Sales(In Millions) % Changevs. Year Ago Unit Sales(In Millions) % Changevs. Year Ago
Total Category $3,856.0 -2.9% 1,708.0 -2.3%
Tropicana Pure Premium 1,164.0 -5.1 423.3 -2.9
Private Label 412.5 -13.1 208.9 -11.7
Minute Maid Premium Juice 411.1 -15.9 145.8 -15.9
Florida’s Natural 231.8 -4.2 97.3 -5.0
Sunny Delight 194.5 -6.0 113.0 -9.2
Simply Orange 149.3 65.2 56.8 72.2
Dole Blended Fruit Juice 99.3 -8.9 38.9 -8.5
Tampico 98.4 -9.7 77.5 -9.5
Minute Maid Premium Drink 79.6 -4.5 44.1 -1.0
Welch’s Fruit Drink 68.9 0.7 2.1 2.0
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the52-week period ending October 31, 2004.SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
  $ Sales(In Millions) % Changevs. Year Ago Unit Sales(In Millions) % Changevs. Year Ago
Total Category $138.2 14.3% 86.8 11.7%
Turkey Hill 40.0 22.5 24.5 22.3
Private Label 16.5 4.2 11.7 0.1
Red Diamond 13.8 31.9 8.2 39.0
Nestea 8.6 -4.2 4.1 -6.2
Milos 8.6 18.1 4.6 25.9
Arizona 7.5 -8.4 3.7 -10.3
Clover Farms 4.6 -10.4 2.8 -19.0
Swiss Premium 3.9 38.7 3.6 32.4
Minute Maid Premium 3.5 -18.6 2.4 -16.0
Galliker 3.3 0.4 2.1 -0.2
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the52-week period ending October 31, 2004.SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Chelsea, Mass.-based HP Hood has added several juice drinks to its Carb Countdown line of reduced-carb dairy beverages. They contain 75 percent fewer carbs and 90 percent less sugar than regular juice.
While such products may seek to answer the demand for juices with fewer carbs, Austin stresses that in producing a low-carb product, manufacturers have eliminated the ability to call it “juice” because it is no longer 100 percent juice. Technically, it has become a “juice beverage.”
“To reduce the carbohydrates, you add some water, and then to bring it up to an acceptable level of sweetness, you add a non-nutritive sweetener, and then a little bit of texturizer to replace some of the texture that you lost when you put in the water,” Austin explains. “Basically, what you end up with is a watered-down juice with things to make it taste better.”
That said, Johanna Foods was not about to be left holding the bag when consumers came calling for low-carb juice beverages. The company rolled out Tree Ripe Premium Lite, a vitamin-enriched orange juice beverage, featuring half the sugar, carbs and calories of regular orange juice.
Although the market appeared to be crying out for just such a product, Austin reports that consumers have given low-carb juice beverages a resounding thumbs-down because they failed to live up to taste expectations. Fortunately, as with every other fad, the whole low-carb craze has a time limit — and it appears that strict low-carb dieting may have already hit its peak.
Investing for the Future
“There are a number of indications that low-carb diets are trending down and that consumers are starting to moderate their food and beverage consumption, coming back to more normal balance between protein and carbohydrates in their diet,” says Ron Schroder, director of marketing, Swiss Valley Farms, Davenport, Iowa. “Because of that, I think we will start to see some growth coming back into the regular juice categories.”
Manufacturers have begun preparing for that eventuality, investing heavily in R&D efforts resulting in innovative new products and packaging, intended to help them recapture lost share of stomach.
Apple & Eve has already unveiled its latest creation: Tropicals, a line of 100 percent juice blends. Tropicals are considered an extension of Apple & Eve’s line of 100 percent juices sold in 64-ounce PET bottles, which were given a new shape and proprietary look.
New product introductions abound at City of Industry, Calif.-based Langer Juice Co.
In the first quarter of 2005, the company plans to unveil a six-SKU line of shelf-stable pomegranate juices. The products will be sold in both multi-serve PET and single-serve PET bottles and in a 32-ounce glass bottle under the company’s nutrition label, L&A. Langer already rolled out a four-SKU line of strawberry juice blends, as well as Langer’s Jooc Juice, a kid-oriented 100 percent juice product. Boasting a sweet taste that appeals to children, Jooc (“Just Out of Curiosity”) Juice is available in flavors such as Candy Apple, which company vice president Bruce Langer describes as “apple juice with a candy flavor.”
Kid-friendly juice products have also been at the heart of R&D efforts for Dallas-based Dean Foods Co. Concerned about childhood obesity, Dean set out to create a low-calorie, nutritious beverage that would be embraced by both parents and children.
The result is 80 ‘N Sunny™, a lowfat milk and fruit juice blend, geared toward children ages 2 to 12, sold under the Land O’Lakes brand. With 80 calories, each 8-ounce serving contains as much calcium as an 8-ounce glass of milk, and as much vitamin C as an 8-ounce glass of orange juice.
Before introducing the product, Dean spent two years assembling focus groups with kids and parents.
Researchers discovered parents weren’t the only consumers interested in the contents of kid-oriented products. According to Dave Haley, regional director of marketing for Dean’s Midwest region, kids also are paying close attention to what goes into their own bodies.
Consequently, Dean has dedicated a section of its 80 ‘N Sunny Web site to explaining to kids why they need various nutrients.
“Kids are starting to become really solid consumers regarding the nutrition facts panel,” says Haley. “That means we, as marketers, have got to start talking about the benefits of our products to the actual target and putting it in the language that they can understand.”
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.
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