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As explored in “Keeping it Simple: Fresh Juice gains Traction in US Foodservice,” juicing could present a solution for many foodservice outlets seeking to increase traffic via beverage innovations. But for Americans who enjoy hand crafted juices, the experience goes beyond the simple consumption of fruit juice drinks purchased at retail. These people enjoy premium fresh squeezed juice for health benefits, but the process to make shelf stable juice (arguably) cancels those out. As evidenced by Starbucks’ acquisition and anticipated national distribution of Evolution Fresh, the company is banking on new technologies (specifically, high pressure processing or HPP) to combat this perception and bring what they consider the healthiest and best tasting fruit and green vegetable juices to branded outlets as well as retail grocery shelves across the nation. But, due to the high cost of HPP as well as a commitment to freshness, manufacturers will have to rely on the willingness of consumers to pay a premium for quality. By positioning themselves toward these consumers, HPP juice manufacturers are hoping to capitalise on the passion of America’s juicing culture while increasing their consumer base.
Craft juice is not a new phenomenon in the US, and is certainly not a new phenomenon globally. In tropical climates, the use of fresh fruits and vegetables to create beverages at home is a common practice. In countries like the United States and Canada, however, the time and effort involved in juicing at home often outweighs the benefit, especially considering the limited availability of fresh produce. But freshly crafted fruit and vegetable juice is very different compared with 100% juice purchased in stores. Per FDA regulations, almost all 100% juice sold at retail must be pasteurised to destroy harmful bacteria and moulds. Many juice enthusiasts, including Naked Juice and Evolution Fresh founder, and current Starbucks Chief Juice Officer Jimmy Rosenberg, note that this process also deactivates healthy enzymes, reduces vitamin content, and fundamentally changes the taste of the juice.
High pressure processing appears to be the solution for such concerns. As opposed to heating a juice and burning off natural enzymes and flavours, HPP uses high pressure to prevent bacteria growth in raw foods and beverages. More importantly, the use of pressure as opposed to heat removes harmful bacteria without breaking down the covalent bonds, thereby allowing the juice to retain its taste.The actual composition of the juice thereby remains unchanged while still allowing the beverage to be safely packaged and distributed. But this process is not without its pitfalls – the procedure is costly, is only used by few brands, and is sold at prices much higher than many 100% juices – ranging from US$4.99 per eight ounce bottle to US$7.99 for some blends. However, interest in the potential for the technology is at an all-time high, as supported by Starbucks’ US$30 million acquisition of Evolution Fresh in late 2011 and Hain Celestial’s intent to acquire BluePrint in December of 2012.
These acquisitions were not without their detractors. Despite indications that the US economy is recovering, many believe the high price points necessary to produce raw juices will keep many consumers at bay. Others point to scepticism around the new technology, saying that even freshly squeezed juices lose many enzymes when left sitting for longer than 60 seconds. And still others believe that the talk of enzymes and high pressure procedures are too convoluted to make an impact on average consumer purchasing behaviour.
For a majority of Americans, concerns over price are a large reason behind the low per capita figures for 100% juices in the US. While Canada leads all nations with 40.5 litres per capita in 2011, the US is much further behind at 14.4 litres, or 14th in the world. And this figure does not include the many nations who consume unpackaged juices due to the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables that can easily be crafted at home.
But what companies such as Starbucks and Hain Celestial are banking on is the almost fanatical habits of consumers active in this juicing “culture.” As Rosenberg discussed, juicing is part of a healthier lifestyle where those who purchase and regularly consume beverages such as Evolution Fresh’s Sweet Greens and Lemon are making healthier choices. As such, these consumers are keen on new technologies that would make their drinks both healthier and more convenient to purchase.
Super premium juice consumers are also more likely to make repeat purchases and frequent foodservice outlets that meet their needs. Aside from the juice cleanse fad, where people consume solely juices over a period of time to “cleanse” their bodies of impurities and preservatives, more people are also looking at juice diets for meal replacement or incorporating daily juicing as part of a more nutritious routine. Foodservice outlets have taken note, with Jamba Juice exploring an expanded menu with more fresh juice options and remodelling stores to showcase the use of fresh fruit and vegetables. Smoothie chain Juice It Up! has also followed suit with fresh juice options on the menu. The idea is simple: consumers already willing to pay premiums for health and wellness will continue to do so as health and wellness choices become a part of their lives.
The concept of cultivating a beverage culture, creating a premium segment, and making that beverage available at all channels is old hat for Starbucks. When Starbucks began serious expansion of their outlets in the late 1980s, many pointed to declining coffee sales in the US as an indication that the venture was folly. But, despite relatively high price points and a specialist coffee market that was still niche at best, the model succeeded based on an already fervent, albeit small, consumer base making a trip to Starbucks a part of their beverage routine. From there, profits from this base allowed the company to invest in introducing coffee culture to new consumers, and eventually expansion across a variety of products and into grocery stores.
The company hopes to do the same with juices. Although it is quite optimistic to think Evolution Fresh chains will have the same impact on juice as Starbucks lattes and mochas had on coffee, the company is once again facing a relatively small market with a passionate built-in consumer base. The added technology of HPP also gives the chain a hook into the premium segment, similar to how it used espresso and high quality beans. This formula has been successful for Starbucks before, and holds promise for the future. And while many will seek to emulate this expansion of a niche category in developed countries, the key will be to do so with a devoted consumer base hungry for new products.