The nutritional wonders of fruit and vegetable juices are not lost on the increasingly health-conscious consumer, spawning a slew of new drinks in the market eager to cash in on the fast-growing beverage sector.
Natural, sugar-free juices are among the key drivers in the industry. According to global drinks packaging firm SIG Combibloc, the Asia-Pacific and South American regions have the greatest potential for sales growth.
A report by the European Fruit Juice Association shows global consumption of fruit and vegetable juices, and nectars, is highest in Europe, at over 11 billion litres in 2009. North America gulped down about 9.5 billion litres last year, while Asia ranked third, drinking about 8 billion litres.
Specialist drinks consultancy Zenith International, which provided the data for the report, expects sales in the EU countries to rise a further 1.2% to 11.8 billion litres by 2014.
Jeffrey Klineman, Editor of non-alcoholic beverage reviewer BevNET.com, says there's definitely been a fair amount of growth in the whole juice category.
“Produce buyers can't get enough of Bolthouse, Odwalla, Naked, and the Acai or pomegranate juices as well,” said Klineman, adding that these products are now stocked in areas of supermarkets normally reserved for fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Obviously it’s a small part of total beverage industry, but it's a pretty significant one and it's driving a lot of new product introductions. Many of the flavors and extracts are finding their way into mainstream profiles as well,” he added.
According to SIG Combibloc Global Market Segment Manager, Norman Gierow, it’s all about the fruit sacs - the pulp, that is.
“A completely new development in the area of products aseptically filled in carton packs is the combination of milk with orange sacs”, said Gierow.
The unusual drink is offered by Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, one of China’s leading dairy companies, and also by Coca-Cola in China.
“We see in this development a lot of potential for creating new beverage concepts that can be applied across multiple sectors, which food manufacturers will be able to use to augment their range with products containing added value,” said Gierow.
Aside from milk and juice, one of the more talked about trends in this space, is the coconut water craze.
Vita Coco, one of the big players in the coconut water market, enjoyed a 400 percent rise in sales between 2007 and 2009, to $20 million.
Of course, with the backing of high-profile celebrity investors like Madonna, Matthew McConaughey and Demi Moore, it’s no surprise Vita Coco has been tried by many tastebuds.
The craze has even reached down under, with health beverage merchant Nudie Foods launching it’s own coconut water range in Australia in May.
But it appears that still hasn’t quenched consumers’ thirst. Klineman expects demand for the natural drink to spike in 2011.
“Coconut water is really taking off in some markets, but hasn't hit mainstream distribution yet. That’s coming, but it'll be in the middle of next year when the big (players) start to really get coconut water into their systems,” said Mr Klineman.
But with consumers going nuts for coconut water and other healthy options, how are the big soft drinks firms adapting?
Coca-Cola, which is due to release its third quarter profit results Tuesday, has noticed a change in consumer habits. Group Communications Director of Coca-Cola Pacific, June Kong-Dhanabalan said consumers are certainly more well-traveled and affluent.
“Our challenge is to keep pace with the various unmet needs and create the right products and package sizes for consumers of all ages, so that we're relevant to their lifestyles,” said Ms Kong-Dhanabalan.
“How are we tackling the new breed of consumer? The Coca-Cola Company is investing even more in understanding our consumers, growing our core brands and also adding the benefits that we bring to consumers through the beverages - by adding vitamins and nutrients, to innovating with low- and no- calorie options,” she added.