Pulp Friction

March 12, 2010
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Although  many consumers have crossed quite a few items off their grocery lists, better-for-you beverages do not seem to be one of them. And when it comes to better-for-you juices, consumers are learning that a store brand version can be just as healthful as the national brands’.

Over the past couple of years, many consumers have crossed quite a few items off their grocery lists. But according to a 2009 report from Rockland, Md.-based Packaged Facts, better-for-you beverages do not seem to be one of them. The report - “Why Beverages?” - states that “better-for-you” currently is the number-one driver in the beverage landscape.

“More consumers are reading labels, looking to avoid artificial ingredients of all kinds, whether color, flavor or sweetener,” the report reads. “They are also looking to eat and drink more healthfully, to combat obesity, maintain weight or lower cholesterol.”

And when it comes to better-for-you juices, consumers are learning that a store brand version can be just as healthful as the national brands’.

Data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) show that in the 52 weeks ending Dec. 27, 2009, dollar and unit sales in the overall shelf-stable bottled juice category dropped 1.2 and 3.0 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, private label shelf-stable bottled juice saw dollar and unit sales gains of 2.0 and 0.2 percent.

The IRI data also show that, in the overall refrigerated bottled juice category, dollar sales dropped 1.4 percent and unit sales increased 2.8 percent. During the same time, the private label refrigerated juice/drinks category realized dollar and unit sales gains of 5.5 percent and 18.9 percent, respectively.

Peter Mattson, executive vice president of sales and marketing at A. Lassonde, Rougemont, Quebec, says the not-so-impressive juice sales during the economic downturn could partially be attributed to an overabundance of SKUs in the marketplace. However, retailers seem to be getting their act together by learning the art of SKU rationalization.

“Most companies are reducing the number of SKUs they have in the warehouse and on the shelves, and they’re expanding the best-selling flavors,” he notes.

Fewer SKUs certainly make it easier for consumers to decide on what juice(s) to buy. Mattson recalls how complicated things became when white cranberry became all the rage.

“A lot of people put white cranberry [juice] out a couple years ago,” he explains. “Then they put out white cranberry-strawberry, white cranberry-grape, and basically, what you’re left with today is just white cranberry. They overpopulated the white cranberry.”

Chad Hagen, vice president of sales and marketing for consumer products at Aptos, Calif.-based Sunopta, agrees with Mattson, noting that retailers looking to release an apple juice under their own brand shouldn’t go overboard by also releasing five or six different apple juice blends.

Still, a juice category revamp should not be limited to cutting back SKU count - retailers might also want to consider adding an alternative to a traditional offering that could give their juice selection a modernizing facelift. For example, A. Lassonde added a blood orange juice. According to Mattson, consumers found the addition trendy and appealing.

Flavor of the Month

Speaking of trendy, what are the more popular fruit flavors today? It might be last year’s big news, but Hagen stresses that antioxidant-rich superfruits still are pretty big - especially pomegranate, mangosteen and acai.

Hagen also says fruit and vegetable juice blends first introduced under the Campbell Soup Co.’s V8 brand a couple years ago - which offer the nutritional benefits of vegetables without a “vegetable flavor” - still are gaining in popularity on the private label side. In fact, several private label juice manufacturers produce national brand equivalents to the V8 products.

Hagen also notes that SunOpta is making major headway in developing soluble fiber to add to its juices. Although he doesn’t know whether or not soluble fiber will be an increasing trend in 2010, he believes there’s enough value in the concept for it to gain popularity in the juice category.

“It could cross all kinds of groups,” he says. “I think the fiber trend is becoming more what you’re seeing. You’re seeing it in cereals; you’re seeing it in bakery. So we’re working a lot on soluble fiber.”

And speaking of added benefits, Mattson says A. Lassonde is increasing its focus on adding nutraceuticals to its juices. These nutraceuticals include Wellmune (which enhances key immune responses), Lutein (which helps maintain the health of eyes and skin) and marine-sourced omega 3 oil.

Although adding marine-sourced omega 3 oil to a juice without giving it a fishy flavor can be difficult to do, Mattson notes that A. Lassonde has figured out how to do this on both the refrigerated and shelf-stable sides.

The Right Pack

Whether consumers are looking for a product that is shelf-stable or refrigerated, many of them want packaging to be sustainable. For plastic, Mattson notes that A. Lassonde’s cold-fill process for juices allows PET bottles to be lightweighted as much as possible without the worry of distorting bottle shape.

Hagen adds that another trend he’s seeing is the increasing use of recycled PET (RPET) in bottles. Still, many juice manufacturers have yet to join in on the RPET conga line. Hagen knows of only one company that is using RPET bottles for its juices, and the bottles contain only 40 percent RPET.

“I think there’s great opportunity for sustainability on the packaging side of the juice [industry],” Hagen says. “However, it’s still a big void in the industry. I think from the packaging side, my recommendations are [for retailers to keep] looking at the suppliers and ask for suggestions on packaging.”

However, Mattson believes plastic bottles are a big no-no for retailers looking to market organic juices. Organic consumers are wary of PET because of the recent concerns regarding bisphenol A (BPA).

“When we go talk to a private label retailer about doing an organic program, we would suggest they use glass, even though glass might not be the best for sustainability and shipping,” Mattson notes. “But the consumer wants the right package for the right item.”

And sometimes that right package is an aseptic container. Mattson says A. Lassonde packages many of its juices in Tetra Pak aseptic containers.

Hagen also believes some opportunity can be found in aseptic packaging. However, he warns that retailers need to be careful.

“If you have aseptic [packaging], you have to heat the juice up, and the integrity of the juice sometimes … doesn’t hold as strong,” he warns. “You have to be very careful with the pasteurization of it - to keep the integrity of the juice.”

On the graphics side of packaging, Mattson believes retailers should use artwork to brand like they’re “supporting the entire family.” He admires retailers such as Brampton, Ontario-based Loblaw and Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, which are known for their respective no name and Great Value brands.

“When Loblaws and Walmart redid their private label program[s] to have a sea of white or a sea of yellow, it basically was supporting the entire family,” Mattson says.

Sweetening the Deal

It takes more than colors to support brands, though. Laura Corser, senior business manager for Dunkirk, N.Y.-based Cliffstar Corp., says more and more retailers are putting out unique juice products that truly are destination items. These stores need to make sure they treat their private brands as true brands.

“They need to prominently and consistently promote their store brand program in terms of value and quality, rather than price alone,” she says. “Store brands need to be highly visible and [communicate a] consistent message across all types of media.”

Mattson believes many of the biggest and best retailers use every inch of their real estate to advertise their own brands.

“You can’t spend a lot of money on private label because that’s not the intent - to put in an advertising budget,” he says. “Use the real estate you own. You own trucks on the road, so what’s stopping you from painting the brand on the trucks’ sides?”

And for retailers looking to cross-promote their store brand juices, nothing beats offering a single meal solution for a set amount of cash. Mattson recalls seeing an ad for one retailer that offered a family breakfast solution (containing juice, toast, bacon and eggs) for $5. Retailers also could cross-promote single-serve juice boxes with lunchmeats and other lunch-related items that could be thrown in a box and taken to school or work.

As for preparing for the future, retailers should consider social media, even if it’s still in its infancy. Although retailers still are figuring out how to reach their customers through applications such as Facebook and Twitter, Hagen believes it’s best to jump on the bandwagon now and experiment over time to find the best way to reach customers.

“Whoever’s not in on it is going to miss the boat,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to understand your consumer and be able to communicate to them in very effective manners.”

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