CHICAGO — Ready-to-drink juice continues to be a challenging sell in today’s burgeoning beverage business, competing for appeal with products highlighting protein, energy and low-sugar claims. Cold-press technology and high-pressure processing (H.P.P.) of whole fruits and vegetables, along with the addition of functional nutrients, is helping elevate the category.
“Juice is one of the most competitive segments of the beverage industry,” said Natalie Shmulik, chief executive officer, The Hatchery Chicago, a non-profit incubator that offers food and beverage entrepreneurs commercial production space and education resources. “Creating a story around the use of food ingredients and technologies helps a juice brand differentiate.”
At a recent workshop The Hatchery hosted on the category, Megan Klein, co-founder and president, Chicago-based Field + Farmer, formerly Here, explained how cold pressing makes a difference.
“Cold-press juicing extracts the juice from fruits and veggies in its purest form,” she said. “It keeps minerals, enzymes, nutrients and vitamins intact by eliminating oxidation. Yes, it’s harder and takes a lot longer, but we know that hard work pays off in flavor and health benefits.”
Kristina Sciarra, founder of Harvest Juicery, Chicago, a former home delivery and brick-and-mortar pressed juice brand that is now only selling commercial ready-to-drink products, agreed cold pressing makes a world of difference in juice quality.
“Cold-press juicing makes fruits and vegetables taste very different than simply eating them individually raw,” Ms. Sciarra said. “I gather ingredients that work well together and then blend them to develop a balanced flavor without compromising on the health benefits.”
Like a growing number of cold-pressed packaged juices, the brands use H.P.P., also known as cold pressure. The technology extends product shelf life without negatively affecting product quality, which often occurs with heat processing.
“With H.P.P., our cold-pressed juices have a 45- to 75-day refrigerated shelf life, instead of three days,” Ms. Sciarra said. “We use our package to emphasize that this is 100% juice from whole foods. We discuss why we chose the ingredients that are in the juice, noting flavor profile and health benefits on the bottle, and really stress that there are no added preservatives, sugar or water added to our juices. This is the actual juice from fruits and vegetables.”
Changing names from Here, which emphasized local, to Field + Farmer, which focuses on the company’s direct sourcing from local farmers, helps accentuate the whole fruits and vegetables story. Some offerings include pineapple basil turmeric and apple kale wheatgrass.
She explained how the juice industry has changed in the past couple of years.
“Juice used to be all about the fruit and vegetable content,” Ms. Klein said. “Now it’s how much sugar is in the juice.”
To keep sugars down, Field + Farmer juices include much less apple than many of the competitive national brands. This formulation choice lowers the brand’s profit margin, but Ms. Klein believes it helps sell product.
“We want to make healthy taste good,” Ms. Sciarra said, who also only adds small amounts of fruit to her green juices. “Just enough to make it palatable.”
There is a great deal of innovation occurring in the premium juice space. LovePlantz, Hollywood, Fla., is introducing a namesake H.P.P. beverage described as “blended fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds that is not a juice, rather whole foods that you drink.” The beverages are based on a medley of fruits, lettuce and either almonds or walnuts and include peels, pulp and seeds, along with some monk fruit for sweetness.
“They are 100% real, raw, whole food, all blended together with some water to create a super smooth, creamy-like, delicious drink,” said Scott Joseph, founder and c.e.o.
New York-based Choopoons is rolling out Simply Free wellness beverages. The H.P.P. juice varieties are made from simple ingredients and include probiotic cultures. Chia seed oil provides omega-3 fatty acids while acacia fiber is a prebiotic that fuels the probiotics. Cucumber seeds are a source of protein. Cacao fruit pulp rather than refined sugars sweeten the beverages, allowing for a no-added-sugar claim.
Sue Quach, senior beverage technologist, Synergy Flavors, Wauconda, Ill., also spoke at The Hatchery event, sharing with attendees tips on how to achieve farm-fresh flavor when cold press and H.P.P. are not available.
“Hot-filled beverages often need flavor added,” she said. “You can reintroduce those top notes that flash off during heat processing to give the juice a fuller, rounder flavor.”
At IFT19, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition held in New Orleans June 3-5, numerous suppliers showcased their latest innovations for premium juicing beverage manufacturing. Kerr Concentrates, Salem, Ore., a division of Ingredion Inc., Westchester, Ill., showcased its new single-strength pressed juices in a no-added-sugar mocktail. The juices are pasteurized for safety and come aseptic or frozen for added convenience.
“The pressed red raspberry juice provides superior flavor with vibrant color,” said Nick Hergert, research and development technologist. “We combined it with some pear juice to help balance the tartness and contribute natural sweetness.”
Florida Food Products, Eustis, Fla., launched a line of fermented vegetable juices in liquid and powdered format for functional juice beverages. Fermented foods are a part of a growing digestive health movement. The fermented beet juice possesses a deep color with a reduced earthy flavor that typically is associated with beetroots. Fermented carrot, onion and mushroom juices are also part of the initial roll-out.
Diana Food, Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., has a new line of vegetable juice concentrates with application in juice-based beverages. At IFT19, the company sampled the carrot juice in lassi, a spiced yogurt beverage native to India that is gaining traction in the United States in ready-to-drink form.
“We use a proprietary process to concentrate the juice to deliver fresh-from-the-garden aroma and taste,” said Teresa Kilgore, sweet and beverage category manager. “To brighten up the carrot lassi, we included some of our carrot juice concentrate for color.”