Can sugar-reducing tech revive falling fruit juice sales?

12 Feb 2022

Better Juice’s naturally sugar-reduced fruit juice will hit US supermarket shelves in spring 2022 thanks to a partnership with GEA. Could this turn around the long-term decline in fruit juice sales?

Israeli company Better Juice has teamed up with GEA Group, a Germany-headquartered company that supplies machinery and processing technology to the food, beverage and pharmaceutical sectors, to roll out its sugar-reducing bioconversion technology.

Can sugar-reducing tech revive falling fruit juice sales?

Bioconversion process to reduce sugar

The Israeli start-up’s process uses enzymes to convert fructose, glucose, and sucrose sugars into prebiotic and other non-digestible fibres. The juice passes through a continuous flow bio-reactor housing non-GMO microorganisms that transform the sugars into non-digestible molecules that are beneficial to health.

According to the company, it can reduce sugar loads by up to 80%, while preserving the vitamins and other nutrients in the fruit, moderating the sweetness of the juice while intensifying the fruit flavour.

Better Juice says the enzymatic activity that occurs during the bioconversion process is very specific, reducing the juice’s sweetness while leaving other sensory characteristics, such as taste, flavour and smell, unchanged.

Long-term decline in juice sales

Consumer concerns about sugar have been partly responsible for a steady decline in the fruit juice market. A 236 ml glass of fruit juice and cola both contain around 30 grams of sugar and although fruit juices have traditionally enjoyed a health halo thanks to vitamin content, commercial juices have often been stripped of satiating, healthy nutrients such as fibre.

The total US juice market fell by 3.6% between 2015 and 2019, according to Mintel, and half of US consumers who say they are drinking juice less often, are doing so in order to reduce their sugar intake.

Although the category experienced an upsurge in the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, when consumers sought out products with immune-boosting health properties, many stakeholders have doubts over the long-term prospects, including PepsiCo, the owner of the US’ biggest juice brand, Tropicana.

In August last year, PepsiCo inked a deal with private equity firm PAI Partners (PAI) to sell Tropicana, Naked and other juice brands across North America. The $3.3 billion deal, which included an irrevocable option to sell certain juice businesses in Europe, will free the company to concentrate on growing its portfolio of healthier snacks, zero-calorie beverages, and products like SodaStream, said PepsiCo chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta.

Caleb Bryant, associate director for food and drink at Mintel, said: “PepsiCo’s decision to sell Tropicana and Naked reflects a belief that the juice market won’t stage a dramatic comeback and that consumers will continue to abandon the juice market in favour of lower-sugar beverages.”

Better Juice hopes its enzymatic technology will allow healthier, sugar-reduced fruit juice to become the norm.

“[…] in just a few months, affordable, reduced-sugar fruit juice will be a ready option for American consumers," said Gali Yarom, co-founder and co-CEO of Better Juice.

Spring 2022 launch

Under the terms of the venture, GEA will design, manufacture, and install the bioreactor for the sugar-reduction process and offer follow-up technical support for manufacturers. The equipment can be integrated into existing juice production lines and produce up to 200 litres per hour. The first commercial order is for natural fruit juice with 30% reduced sugar, which should reach supermarket shelves in the US by spring 2022.

"This new agreement marks an exciting milestone in our mission to get our sugar-reduction technology off the ground, to penetrate the US market, and to expand our global footprint," said Eran Blachinsky, PhD, co-founder and co-CEO of Better Juice.

Better Juice recently received a European patent for its sugar-reducing technology in Europe and completed a self-affirmed Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) process for the US market.

"Traditionally the challenges of sugar reduction in synthetic beverages were finding the best sugar replacers: the sweetener with the least aftertaste. In the synthetic beverage industry, it is easy to reduce sugar as you can reduce it from the recipe and replace it with a sweetener. This can’t be done with juices where sugar cannot be replaced in the recipe,” Blachinsky told Fi Global Insights after winning the Start-up Innovation Challenge in 2018 in the category Most Innovative Technology.

“As a natural produce juice contains sugar. There is no traditional sugar reduction from juice beside maybe wine and cider production."

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