A stroll down a grocery store imported foods aisle, which is stacked with juice and nectar creations from Europe and Latin America, feels worlds away from the U.S. juice category a few aisles over.
There, a familiar and largely bottled domestic homogeny of various citrus, apple and cranberry juices stands in stark contrast to the colorful and intriguing wall of imported innovations. A sea of wildly diverse blends of fruits and vegetables — many of them packaged in cartons — showcase the innovative offerings that much of the rest of the world gets and has come to expect.
Market watchers of the stagnant U.S. juice market need only to see what is selling here to discover what consumers thirst for now. Rapidly growing sales of coconut water juice blends and trending super-fruit and salad smoothies all point to healthier and more interesting ways to hydrate and nutrient-load than the prosaic juices and nectars that dominate the U.S. market.
This growing competition from other drinks along with health concerns about sugar and calorie counts have contributed to an inflation-adjusted 9 percent drop-off in U.S. juice sector sales as a whole, according to market watcher Mintel, in a comprehensive November 2014 report on the U.S. juice market. This slide will almost certainly continue without innovation that moves packaged juice beyond the breakfast table and positions it as a portable, healthful snack that satisfies at any time of day.
The few bright spots in the category, indeed, are the more innovative segments where products are being positioned to address these challenges. Smoothies have been successful, for example, in positioning products as nutrient-rich anytime snacks. Though just 5 percent of the overall category, smoothies grew dollar sales by 35 percent between 2012 and 2014 according to the Mintel report.
Many of these ever-more-exotic, health-oriented fruit and vegetable blends and smoothies have been successfully formulated as lower-sugar alternatives to orange juice, whose U.S. retail sales have declined by 30 percent in the past decade, notes Barron’s. But as producers in Europe and South America figured out a long time ago, aseptic processing and carton packaging provide a highly effective method for preserving juice beverages without preservatives—an ideal combination for consumers, who seek quality products along with innovative and healthier formulations.
These better-for-you juices and smoothies have been a popular area of exploration for visitors to LiDestri Food, Beverage and Spirits’ new Innovation Center in Rochester, N.Y., which offers food and beverage producers a veritable playground for product experimentation. Here is where they can have ‘bench time’ to explore and tweak formulations or do test runs to gauge mid- and then full-scale production issues.
A focus on flavor is one of many reasons LiDestri Food, Beverage and Spirits, Inc. recently invested in the only two high-acid Tetra Prisma® Aseptic production lines in the U.S. in Pennsauken, N.J., with the capacity for up to six more at that location.
Following the trends, our private label offerings, packaged in cold fill aseptic cartons, sync with the consumer move toward healthy and deliciously indulgent beverages. Some examples include:
• a vitamin A-, C- and E-fortified lemonade called LEMONACE;
• a strawberry banana juice smoothie;
• SMOOTHCHATA, a take on the rice-based Mexican beverage horchata; and
• SuperGreens, a vitamin-rich fruit and leafy vegetable blend.
Our work in this arena has taught us two important lessons:
- Aseptic processing is optimal for these new breeds of beverages for a variety of reasons, the first being taste; and
- It pays for producers to consider packaging in tandem with formulation innovations, which is possible with an Innovation Center such as ours.
Tetra Pak’s aseptic processing and packaging is gentler on natural flavors and nutrients, making it a strong fit for preserving the natural flavors in juices, nectars and smoothies. The system also protects products without the need for preservatives, another important consideration as natural and healthful products increasingly resonate with consumers.
These modern packages also provide differentiation for our customers, who want to stand out against the competition for their packages too. In addition to having a distinctive silhouette, the fully printable surface also creates a billboard effect that’s perfect for the bright colors and eye-catching graphics that consumers increasingly have come to expect from modern package design. And retailers like them for their space efficiency, which allows them to fit more product on shelves.
As savvy beverage manufacturers and private label producers continue to innovate to revive and grow the juice category, we look forward to helping them meet the needs of their customers both inside and out.
Stefani LiDestri is the Chief Marketing Officer for LiDestri Food, Beverage and Spirits, Inc., a 40-year-old, family-owned company based in Fairport, NY, with four manufacturing centers across the U.S. LiDestri’s diversity offers opportunities for Stefani to innovate and communicate across multiple industries, channels and disciplines.