Getting vitamin C is no longer the only benefit of drinking a glass of juice.
That's because an increasing number of shelf-stable brands now contain carrots, beets and other vegetables.
Such beverages are appealing at a time when most people don't meet the government's recommendation to eat at least five servings of vegetables every day.
Wholesaler Unified Grocers, Los Angeles, carries 12 shelf-stable juice brands, including Hansen's, Kerns, Langers, Nestlé Juicy Juice, Martinelli's, Campbell's V8, V8 Fusion and V8 Splash.
Along with vegetables, juices are value-added in other ways. Take Juicy Juice, whose varieties include DHA for brain development and Juicy Juice Immunity with vitamin C and zinc, plus prebiotic fiber for digestive health.
Packaging is also changing for the better. Juicy Juice for Immunity and Juicy Juice with DHA are leading the charge with their 33.8-ounce, shelf-stable Tetra Prisma container with a screw cap, according to Bob Lutz, Unified's procurement vice president. Other packaging innovations include six-pack-style bottles that make the transition from table to lunch box.
There are plenty of other new options in the juice aisle, including new lower-sodium and reduced-calorie lines, said Lutz.
“Over the past two years, we've seen an increase in the low-sugar and light varieties, in large part due to the higher incidence of diabetes and health complications in the growing Hispanic community,” Lutz told SN.
A change to the California Women's Infants and Children program is also affecting the category, he said. WIC provides free food and beverages to low-income women, infants and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. As of October 2009, the WIC juice list is no longer restricted to a single supplier, said Lutz. Now, any 64-ounce brand of pasteurized, ready-to-drink that has 100% juice and 120% vitamin C can be included in the program.
“There have been many suppliers who have added different varieties to their regular assortment and have changed their labels to meet the state criteria,” said Lutz.
Dietitians SN interviewed said they frequently promote juice as long as it's 100% juice. This helps to ensure that shoppers get the nutritional benefits that fruit and vegetables provide without all of the “added” sugar and additives, said Heather Leets, Spartan Stores' dietitian.
People of all ages can benefit from choosing 100% juices with additional nutrients like omega-3 (DHA), calcium and vitamin D, said Leets. She also encourages shoppers to look for natural juices that incorporate tea into their blends.
“Tea is naturally rich in antioxidants and also makes a healthy beverage choice,” Leets said.
The texture of the juice also comes into play, said Leets. A thicker texture such as 100% orange juice, 100% grape juice or even 100% tomato or vegetable juice contains a more cloudy texture.
“This is an easy way to tell that you are getting your money's worth and not just a watered-down, sugar-filled version of the real thing,” she said.
Leets warns shoppers to pay close attention to the sugar content. Every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar. Some juices, such as orange juice, contain less sugar than other juices.
Likewise, she tells them to avoid products that contain terms like cocktail, beverage and punch, because they may have added fillers such as water, sugar and other additives.
The shelf-stable juice category is undergoing a transformation of sorts due to all the new products on the market, said Leets. Along with improvements to national brands, there have been private-label reformulations.
Spartan-brand juices, for instance, have been reformulated to eliminate artificial flavors and reduce the overall calorie content. They come in such varieties as Cranberry Apple, Cranberry Grape, Cranberry Raspberry, Cranberry Cocktail, Cranberry Pomegranate and Ruby Red Grapefruit.
Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., markets a variety of value-added juices, including V8 V-Fusion, which provides a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit, plus vitamins A, C and E in each 8-ounce glass.
It also rolled out V8 100% vegetable juice with 420 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce glass, a 12% reduction. Next month, it will start shipping V8 Spicy Hot Low Sodium with 480 milligrams per serving, according to Campbell spokeswoman Juli Mandel-Sloves.
The change means that Campbell's entire line of V8 juices now meets, or in some cases even exceeds, government standards for healthy foods.
“V8 Spicy Hot Low Sodium provides a new offering for consumers who love the taste of V8 Spicy Hot but have bought less due to concerns over the higher levels of sodium,” said Mandel-Sloves. “We have been focused on gradually reducing the sodium in our V8 products and making authentic vegetable nutrition more accessible to consumers.”
In keeping with First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy nutrition, consumers are seeking healthy beverage alternatives, said Andrea Bass, category director, kids' brands, Apple & Eve, Roslyn, N.Y.
“There is a greater recognition today that fruit juice beverages provide nutrition that isn't available from other beverage sources,” Bass said.
There's also more consumer awareness of the benefits of vitamins, antioxidants, fruits and vegetables, she added.
Apple & Eve offers products that promote health and wellness. Its “Fruitables” provides a full serving of fruits and vegetables. Since it's blended with purified water, it has one-third fewer calories than other juices, according to the company.
“Kids love juice, so it's a great way to deliver the nutrition kids need,” said Bass.
Juices made with 100% juice are commonly featured in the “Living Well, Eating Smart” health and wellness program at Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass.
Big Y's registered dietitian, Carrie Taylor, often recommends Apple & Eve's Fruitables because they provide both fruit and vegetables like carrots, potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes and beets.
Taylor also promotes juice for adults. One such brand is Old Orchard Brands' Healthy Balance, a line of low-calorie juice drinks containing Splenda no-calorie sweetener. Flavors include Apple Cranberry, Apple Kiwi Strawberry and Cranberry Grape.
“Healthy Balance is a great way for adults to get a fruity flavored beverage while controlling their carbs at the same time,” she said.
Another recommendation for adults is Ocean Spray “light” juice drinks sweetened with Splenda, said Taylor.
Full-calorie juices are fine for children when consumed in moderation, said Taylor.
“Juice has a place in a healthy diet as long as there's portion control,” she said.
Among the brands she recommends is Mott's Medleys, 100% juice that contains fruit and vegetables plus vitamin E and magnesium. Also from Mott's is Mott's Plus for Kids' Health Juice, a 100% juice fortified with vitamins A and C, and calcium.