A child’s affinity toward the basic taste of sweet begins at birth with mother’s milk, which has a slightly sweet profile that a baby grows fond of quickly. This is why fruit juices long have been a staple in households with children, because parents often view them as a better-for-you alternative to sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks and sweetened fruit-flavored beverages.
Still, a calorie is a calorie, and 100% fruit juice may have as much sugar and calories as many alternatives. Yet researchers have found there is no correlation between children drinking 100% fruit juice and obesity in children or teenagers. In fact, a large study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, showed that children between the ages of 2 and 11 years old who drank more than 6 ounces of pure fruit juice a day generally ate a more nutritious diet with more whole fruit and vitamins and minerals. They also consumed less fat and added sugars than those who did not.
One reason, according to the researchers, may be that parents who feed their children 100% fruit juice are more health-conscious. They most likely limit less nutritious food and beverages while encouraging more healthful options.
But, again, fruit juice contains calories, and just like any other calorie-containing drink, too much fruit juice may contribute to weight gain.
A focus on calorie reduction
Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children between the ages of 6 and 11 years old in the United States and tripled in adolescents, youths between the ages of 12 to 19 years, in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.
Because overweight and obesity are the result of caloric imbalance — too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed — many beverage manufacturers are making efforts to lower the calories in fruit juices designed for children. Current offerings do not include high-intensity sweeteners, but this likely will change with the increased availability of natural options, such as monk fruit and stevia.
In February, Honest Tea, Bethesda, Md., an independent-operating unit of The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, introduced a new beverage line called Honest Splash. The 70-calorie juice-based drinks are sweetened only with organic fruit juice and contain approximately 30% juice, depending on flavor, of which there are three: berry lemonade, grape and fruit punch.
Through the blending of various fruit and vegetable juices, some for flavor and others for color, along with water, natural flavors and acidulants, formulators were able to develop a beverage that meets the American Beverage Association’s School Beverage Guidelines for High Schools and that still appeals to the tastes of tweens and teenagers. The guidelines permit drinks with 66 calories per 8 fluid ounces, up to 12 fluid ounces, to be sold in high schools.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed nutritional standards for competitive foods sold in schools suggest a calorie limit of either 40 calories or 50 calories per 8 ounces. This would prevent Honest Splash, as well as many other beverages, from being sold a la carte, in vending machines or at snack bars on campus. The proposed rule does allow for the sale of 100% fruit/vegetable juices, as well as water and select milks and milk alternatives.
“Honest Splash is a great fit for older kids, or kids on the go, who need the convenience of a larger, re-closable container,” said Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea. “It still meets the needs of parents who want to provide lower-sugar beverages.”
Though the school business is important, Honest Tea has a strong retail presence. In fact, the company’s Honest Kids brand accounts for more than one-third of its total business. Introduced in May 2007, Honest Kids was the nation’s first organic children’s drink packaged in a portable pouch. Each variety is certified organic and the drinks were designed to contain less than half the sugar and calories of other children’s drinks on the market while providing a day’s supply of vitamin C.
“Even we were surprised to learn that most drink pouches have more sugar per ounce than a can of soda,” Mr. Goldman said.
This past September, in efforts to make Honest Kids even more attractive to label-reading gatekeepers, the company reformulated the beverage by removing the organic cane sugar and increasing the juice content. Honest Kids beverages now have between 30% to 42% juice, an increase of 12% to 26%, depending on variety. Nutritionally, the drinks remain at 40 calories per 6.75-oz pouch.
“We are excited we found a way to deliver the same not-too-sweet taste by sweetening the drinks only with fruit juice,” Mr. Goldman said.
The Honest Kids fruit-juice sweetened line of beverages is now available in a new, 59-oz bottle.
“We received numerous requests from parents who wanted a larger package for families to enjoy at home,” Mr. Goldman said.
Nestle USA, Glendale, Calif., has taken a similar approach with its Juicy Juice Fruitifuls juices. With 35% less sugar than regular juice and a full serving of fruit in every 6.75-oz box, Fruitifuls also have no added sugars and come in four flavors: apple; berry and cherry; orange, strawberry and banana; and punch.
A driver behind the development of Fruitifuls was research showing that two-thirds of mothers are seeking lower-sugar drinks and 58% of them are diluting beverages at home, according to the company.
“Our goal with Juicy Juice Fruitifuls is to create new options that meet the variety of needs families face. We know that many parents are concerned about sugar intake and are diluting juice at home to reduce sugar, but are losing the juice flavor that appeals to kids,” said Megan Shea, brand manager for Nestle Juicy Juice. “Now moms and dads no longer have to compromise when they want to provide a healthy beverage option.”
Similar to Honest Kids, Fruitifuls is a blend of juice concentrates diluted with water and includes acidulants and natural flavors. The combination of ingredients helps maintain the fruit flavor children expect with fewer calories and sugars, either inherently present in the fruit or added.
A little extra
Some children’s juice beverages are getting a boost of nutrition to better appeal to the gatekeeper and in order to create a point of differentiation in the growing category. For example, Kraft Foods Group Inc., Northfield, Ill., recently introduced Capri SunSuper V. Packaged in the familiar Capri Sun pouch, the beverage concept is a blend of fruit and vegetable juice concentrates that are diluted with water and enhanced with vitamins A, C and E, and soluble corn fiber. It comes in three child-friendly flavors: apple, berry and fruit punch.
The company developed the product to help children get their daily dose of recommended fruits and vegetables, as less than half of U.S. children are meeting the Dietary Guidelines. Additionally, according to the Dietary Guidelines, fiber is a nutrient of concern for most people, including children. Each 6-oz pouch contains a combined serving of fruits and vegetables (three-quarters from fruit juice and one-quarter from vegetable juice) and is a good source of fiber.
“We heard from moms that they were constantly in search of fun and delicious ways to get their kids to eat fruits and vegetables,” said Wilfred de Guzman, brand manager for Capri Sun. “With no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives and a good source of antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, Super V comes to the rescue.”
Kraft is not alone with taking the “sneaking in the veggies” approach. In fact, the original player in the category is Apple & Eve L.L.C., Port Washington, N.Y., which a few years ago introduced the Fruitables line of no-sugar-added fruit and vegetable juice beverages.
Fruitables are two-thirds fruit and vegetable juices combined with one-third water, which allows for a 33% reduction in natural sugars, as compared to regular juice. Each 6.75-oz box provides 100% of the daily value for vitamin C and is a good source of antioxidant vitamins A and E, along with other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
All varieties in the Fruitables line start with a base of apple and carrot juices, in which traditional orange and purple varieties of carrots are used, but may contain as many as seven others. For example, the strawberry kiwi variety also includes juice from beets, butternut squash, kiwis, pears, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. According to the company, the vegetables are added in such a combination that they do not distract from the fruit flavor that children have come to expect.
It only makes sense that the Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., marketers of the V8 portfolio of vegetable-based juices, would want to become part of the growing children’s juice business. About six months ago, the company launched V8 V-Fusion juice drink boxes in three child-appealing flavors: apple, berry and fruit punch. Each 6.75-oz box provides a combined serving of fruits and vegetables and no added sugar.
“We listened closely to moms, spent time with kids and worked with our research team to marry the needs of both,” said Mike Barkley, vice-president and general manager of V8 Beverages. “The result is a convenient, tidy package with a fun design that delivers the great-tasting vegetable and fruit juice people expect from V8 V-Fusion.”
An important description to note is that many of these beverages, in particular those containing blends of fruit and vegetable juices, come in boxes or pouches. By using such a delivery vehicle, the color of the beverage is less important than if it comes in a clear package.
Odwalla, a Coca-Cola brand, uses the convenient box for its new Odwalla Smoothies For Kids. Unlike many of the other juice beverages for children, the smoothies are based on fruit juices and purees, delivering a slightly thicker consistency, what one would expect from a blended smoothie. Varieties are: grape berry, mango pineapple, and strawberry banana. Each 6.75-oz box delivers a full serving of fruit.