We spend a lot of time here attending conferences on serious issues of oil, energy, and environment and reporting back to you with what we’ve learned, but sometimes something that initially seems a bit more light-hearted comes around. This was the case with this week’s FoodNews Juice Asia conference, held in the Singapore Sheraton Towers Hotel between 19-20 May.
Fruit juice is a growing market here in Asia, and also has a big impact on the selling of ‘raw materials’, or as the rest of us call them, plants. Hence we had talks on the outlook for the various tropical fruit markets – pineapples, mangos, oranges – and discussions on various trends that could help attendees sell more – looking at the US market, the children’s market, the popularity of energy drinks in recent years, and so on. All of these had their interesting points for the attendees, who were mostly part of the industry itself; and it was good to see a talk about involving farmers more equitably in the juice industry, as the rights of farmers throughout the world have been under threat for many years now.
Most of the talks were essentially about marketing and sales – how to convince more people in more countries to drink more juice. Only one talk, however, touched on a crucial aspect of the juice market that often goes unmentioned. That talk was entitled, “Realizing the ‘health’ aspect of fruit”, and yes, the word ‘health’ was in quotation marks on the official programme. This is because, perhaps surprisingly, fruit juice is not actually particularly healthy.
Fruit itself is a healthy addition to our diets, of course. But most fruits are essentially just a combination of natural sugars and fibrous material. A fruit juice from the supermarket is usually made up of a very high concentration of the sugary aspect of those fruits – meaning a glass of juice can often contain as much sugar as a chocolate bar. Fine in moderation, but not so healthy if we drink it all day, every day. Equally, fruit juices have usually had the fibre of the fruit removed, as people do not seem to like the texture it provides to the drink. This means we have gone from a fruit which is a finely balanced mix of sugar energy and fibre, to a juice which is missing one of those two components, and is subsequently not as well balanced for our health and wellbeing.
Ultimately, juice may not be much more healthy than lemonade or other fizzy drinks. And yet they are constantly promoted to us as a positive supplement to our diet – a way of getting one of our ‘five a day’ as people are often told. Truth be told, this is a trick of advertising as much as anything else – it is based on the idea that fruit must be healthy in all its forms. This stems from a lack of understanding and education on food health in countries around the world – it is very rare for people to truly understand what the food they are putting into their bodies is doing to them, and for people to have a realistic conception of what they should be eating instead to maintain a balanced diet. Instead, people are confused and upset at the constantly changing messages about what is healthy and unhealthy for them – they want clear, consistent, and most of all, accurate information about these issues.
Perhaps then, in future conferences, it might be time for the juice industry to start stepping up to their responsibility to educate as well as advertise. They must make it clear to people that juice is healthy only in moderation, and explain the amount of sugar it contains and the possible effects of that. If they could do this, and build food knowledge among the public, they would begin to rebuild the trust that has been lost over the past few years by aggressive marketing about the health benefits of fruit juices.