The evolution of beverage concentrates

by Donna Berry
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Frozen juice concentrates are important ingredients in the manufacture of all types of beverages as well as many foods.


Though the retail frozen juice concentrate business has shrunk considerably in the past two decades, mainly due to consumer desire for convenience, a concept much better served by ready-to-drink options, frozen juice concentrates are important ingredients in the manufacture of all types of beverages as well as many foods. This includes dairy products such as ice cream and yogurt, pies and pastries, dressings and sauces, jams and jellies, and various candies.

Specifically in the manufacture of juice beverages, the products marketed as “not from concentrate” typically are packaged near the source, which is viable with oranges from Florida and apples from Washington. With super- and exotic-fruits grown in tropical regions on the other side of the world from where the consumer base is located, it makes economic sense to ship concentrates and reconstitute them with local, inexpensive water at a bottling plant.

For example, the popular category of coconut water relies on imported product harvested from fully ripened coconuts, the source of desirable electrolytes.

“We think the cleanest, greenest and most sustainable coconut water in the marketplace comes from brands that use coconut water concentrate,” said Gert van Manen, president of iTi Tropicals Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J. “One gallon of coconut water concentrate makes more than 18 gallons of single-strength coconut water. To make, freeze and store frozen coconut water concentrate does require extra energy; however, it takes more than 18 ocean containers to transport single-strength coconut water versus one container for coconut water concentrate. From an environmental standpoint, it is best to import coconut water concentrate and to reconstitute coconut water immediately prior to packaging.”

Even with domestically grown fruit, shipping concentrates has a smaller footprint than shipping ready-to-drink juices that may be as much as 80% water. If all juices were sold as not-from-concentrate beverages or ingredients, an excessive amount of fruits and vegetables would go to waste because of spoilage issues.

“The main objective of juice concentration involves saving time, money and space,” said Jeannie Curry-Swedberg, director of business development, Tree Top Inc., Selah, Wash.

It all began with oranges

During World War II, there was a need for long-shelf life orange juice and other processed fruits. The Florida Citrus Commission, Bartow, Fla., invested in research that led to the development of frozen concentrate in 1943. The patented technology was assigned to the United States to be available “for the free use of the citrus industry.”

According to the Museum of Florida History, Tallahassee, Fla., frozen concentrate was first advertised in 1946, and soon became a staple in many homes because of its low price and convenience factor, as compared to freshly squeezed juice. Not much has changed from 1946 to today in terms of the actual concentrates. Over the years the retail package changed, from metal cans requiring a can opener to plastic containers with an easy tear-strip. The quality and the reconstitution directions of adding water at either a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio, depending on the product, have remained constant.

Here’s how juices get concentrated. When fruits and vegetables reach their ripening point, they are harvested and prepared for the juice extraction process. They are mechanically peeled, and if applicable, cored, to remove pieces not used in the juice-making process. The meat of the fruit or vegetable gets pressed and squeezed into the first-stage juice. This juice then undergoes a series of filtering steps to remove extraneous matter such as seeds and some pulp. With some fruits and vegetables, compounds that get filtered are added back to the juice in order to provide a more condensed version of the natural product.

The next-to-the final step of conversion to a concentrate involves a heat treatment that evaporates nearly all of the water, which results in a thick and flavorful slurry. This concentrated juice then becomes more potent through reverse osmosis. The final product get packaged, frozen and placed into distribution.

The process does not introduce any harmful ingredients into the juice or reduce its nutritional value; however, some retail frozen juice concentrates will contain additives to maintain color, flavor and nutritional content.

“Juice concentrates intended for further processing into foods or beverages are typically concentrated to a specified degrees Brix, usually in the range of 65 to 70,” Ms. Curry-Swedberg said.

Manufacturers use the specification to determine their desired dilution rate.

“Our fruit juice concentrates are 100% fruit,” she added. “They are prepared from sound, wholesome fruits to retain the characteristic flavor, color and freshness of the whole fruit. This product is process standardized to ensure continuity of quality and contains no added sugars, acid, colors or preservatives.”

Juice concentrates may undergo additional processing to reduce color and improve clarity.

Pure coconut water concentrate is a unique product, as it has one of the highest volume-reduction ratios: 18.1 to 1. Shipping concentrate vs. ready-to-drink coconut water provides substantial freight savings. In addition, coconut water concentrate makes it possible for products to be packaged in the United States by responsible domestic packagers, said Mr. van Manen. A recent white paper released by his company shows many offshore packers add undeclared sugar and even preservatives to ready-to-drink coconut water. Domestic packers might be far more responsible to adherence of regulatory, quality, labeling and safety compliance as well as being aware of the high level of competitive scrutiny.

Indeed, juice concentrates do come with their own set of regulations. They are to be labeled “[namesake fruit or vegetable] from concentrate on ingredient statements. Use allows for claims such as “made with real fruit juice,” as well as “made from real [namesake] fruit.” Some suppliers will offer concentrates enhanced with flavors, and these flavors must be declared on ingredient statements as either “natural flavor” or “artificial flavor.”

“In some applications, concentrates are used in their concentrated form and function as a natural sweetener as well as a source of natural color,” Ms. Curry-Swedberg said.

Beyond frozen concentrates

Beverage concentrates, including those made from fruits and vegetables, come in forms other than frozen. Sold refrigerated or at ambient temperature, the concentrates are becoming increasingly popular among consumers, as they allow for beverage customization while appealing to consumers because of their small footprint and ease of use.

For example, family-owned Brownwood Acres Foods Inc., East Port, Mich., markets a line of 100% juice concentrates under the FruitFast brand. The product is distributed at ambient temperature and must be refrigerated after opening. It will last six months in the refrigerator and may be safely frozen for up to a year.

“Our 100% all-natural fruit juice concentrates come in a variety of sizes and dilution rates,” said Steve de Tar, president. “For example, the tart cherry concentrate comes in quart bottles and is enough to make two gallons of juice. We suggest diluting two tablespoons in a cup of water. Wild Blueberry comes in pint bottles. This is 32 tablespoons, each a serving to be diluted in 8 oz of water. One tablespoon is equal to the fruit juice from more than one cup of fresh blueberries.”

Beverage concentrates extend beyond fruits and vegetables. For example, Chameleon Cold-Brew was born in 2010 in Austin, Texas, when Chris Campbell and fellow coffee connoisseur and co-founder, Steve Williams, experimented for months until they felt they had brewed the perfect cup of coffee.

“Chameleon Cold-Brew is a revolutionary way to drink and enjoy coffee,” said Mr. Campbell, president and chief executive officer, of the namesake company. “It’s brewed at carefully controlled temperatures for more than 16 hours, using only filtered Texas Hill Country water. The result is a super smooth, less acidic, highly caffeinated coffee, which can be enjoyed hot or cold.”

The original coffee concentrate is sold in 16- and 32-oz recyclable glass bottles and consumers may add water, dairy or their favorite flavor and enjoy hot or over ice.

“We treat every batch with meticulous care, using only the best ingredients and premium packaging to maximize freshness and taste,” Mr. Campbell said. “We feel that Chameleon’s taste difference is truly our point of distinction in this growing category.”

Dried mixes in perspective

After frozen and liquid concentrates, there’s powdered drink mixes. From single-serve stick packs to multi-serve canisters, powdered drink mixes are a convenient, flavorful way to refresh and rehydrate. Sold and stored at ambient temperature, when added to liquid, in most instances to water, but sometimes milk or juice, consumers expect these dried mixes to readily dissolve, yielding a delicious and sometimes colorful beverage.

The powdered drink mix category is diverse, with the varying products merchandised throughout a retail store. The category includes everything from fruity drinks and iced tea to cappuccino and hot cocoa. There’s also isotonics, milk flavorings and meal replacements, as well as infant formula. Each of these categories has its own set of formulation considerations, with considerations varying by packaging type.

For example, with multi-serve canisters, the product must be homogeneous so that when the consumer opens the container, ingredients are evenly dispersed without noticeable settling or separation, as a non-homogenous spoonful or scoop prevents the consumer from mixing up a desirable beverage. To ensure homogeneity, the ingredients must be properly dried to be uniform in particle size and free flowing. This prevents clumping and caking. Particle size is less important in pre-measured packs, such as those designed to make a quart or a glass of beverage, as the consumer uses the entire pack at once.

With either form, it is important that the mix readily dissolves. Further, if there are any potentially interactive ingredients, such as vitamins and minerals, they should be protected. This may be accomplished during the drying process by microencapsulation, agglomeration or instantizing.

Powdered drink mixes are a much simpler business than frozen and liquid beverage concentrates, as the manufacturing of such mixes requires less costly production equipment. Many manufacturers are simply blenders who procure ready-to-use dried ingredients from suppliers. The ingredients are combined in the right proportions, thoroughly blended and dispensed into the package. Because one is not shipping or storing fluid, and there are no refrigeration requirements, transportation costs are reduced.

The new realm of flavor enhancers

A rather new, yet booming beverage concentrate category is liquid enhancers, most notably the drops that combine concentrated flavor with no- or low-calorie sweeteners and are used to liven up beverages. Targeted to millennials who grew up with beverage customization as the norm thanks to a lifetime of Starbucks experiences, enhancers come in small, convenient, portable, squeezable plastic containers that allow the user to customize the intensity of their beverage’s flavor.

Kraft Foods Group, Northfield, Ill., created the category when it launched MiO water enhancer in 2011. The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, has been actively competing against Kraft Foods in this new and growing market. First it launched Dasani Drops in September 2012, and soon followed with enhancers for the sports and energy drinks markets under its Powerade brand. The innovation continued this year with the roll-out of Vitaminwater Zero Drops and Minute Maid Drops. At its introduction, the latter was promoted as the only liquid water enhancer made with real fruit.

All of the early enhancers, as well as many products rolled out this year, rely on artificial sweeteners, in particular a combination of sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Earlier this year, the first naturally sweetened water enhancer was introduced by Heartland Food Products Group, Carmel, Ind., in a partnership with Skinny Girl Cocktails L.L.C., New York. Relying on a proprietary blend of stevia leaf extract and cane sugar, a serving of the drops adds 5 calories to the water, compared to zero from the artificially sweetened products.

A number of water enhancers include vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Some are designed for energy, others for sports recovery, and still others for mood enhancement.

It was just a matter of time before this flavor-enhancing concept made its way to other beverage categories. First came MilkSplash from S&D Beverage Innovations, Concord, N.C. The flavor and sweetener concentrate is designed to enhance the taste and color of white milk without adding extra calories.

In early 2015, the Diversified Flavor, a subsidiary of Diversified Consumer Goods, Bloomington, Minn., will put the “got milk?” brand on a line of milk enhancers, including options for a more mature palate, which are caffeinated and come in various coffee flavors.

Speaking of coffee flavors, The J.M. Smucker Co., Orville, Ohio, manufacturers of the Folgers brand of coffee, recently introduced Folgers Flavors, a line of flavored liquid coffee enhancers that make it easy to personalize a perfect cup of coffee, anytime, anywhere. Flavors are caramel, mocha, hazelnut and vanilla.

Innovation specifically in the beverage enhancer category, as well as the overall beverage concentrate category, will continue as the wants and needs of millennials changes with age. These beverage concentrates will likely become an important delivery vehicle for functional nutrition.

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