With all the RTD infusions flooding the market these days, you’d think that people are imbibing a lot more these days. But according to a top CEO in the beverage industry, consumers are drinking the same amount as they always did. Now they’re way more demanding about what’s in the mix.
Today’s consumers are looking for products with “clean labels,” that offer a more natural, healthful, organic and functional drink. Based on the course both established and new companies are taking, they’re quickly heeding the consumer’s call for healthier choices.
“Now everyone wants not only low calorie, but also natural flavor and sweeteners,” says Rabbi Eli Eleff, OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator. “This is going on throughout the food industry.”
In 2007, Coca-Cola Company purchased Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater, Fruitwater, energy drink called Vitaminenergy, as well as Smartwater, enhanced with electrolytes.
Another key player in carbonated beverages, Shasta, the company that introduced ready-to-drink soda in a can back in the 1950’s, has added Rip It energy drink, Clear Fruit fruit-flavored water beverage, Everfresh juice drinks, LaCroix sparkling water, and Mega Sport to its production roster.
All these health-promoting recipes are keeping copackers across the country in a word – beverage-busy.
“Nearly everyone makes their product in one of 30 U.S. co-packing plants,” says Rabbi Yitzchok Mincer, OU Kosher RC. “OU Kosher supervision has a presence in almost all of them.”
Will that be Apple Cider or Veggies on the Rocks?
Mayer Brothers, headquartered in West Seneca, New York, produces brand name and private label products for leading national brands including fresh pack apple ciders, lemonades, teas, juices and spring water.
Now in its fifth generation, the 100-year-old family-owned operation began when patriarch Jacob Mayer launched an apple pressing mill to service local farmers who brought fresh apples from their orchards to be rendered into cider. By the 1920’s, the company produced its own brand of apple cider and in the 1980’s it acquired Gerber Baby Foods facility in Barker, New York, adding hot filled juices, drinks and additional apple cider to its product lineup.
Keeping an ear to the ground for the latest liquid trends, Mayer Brothers introduced spring water to its line, derived from spring sources rich in minerals in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Although the main product continues to be its signature apple cider, the company currently produces ice tea, lemonade, cranberry juice, cranberry raspberry juice, sports drinks and organic flavor waters – sold at Stop & Shop, Sam’s Club, BJ’s among others.
“We’re always upgrading the product formulation,” says Loretta Hasler, QA manager. “People call us asking if we’re allergen free, gluten free, what kind of sweetener we use, and if we’re kosher. I say, yes, there’s an OU on the label. Everyone recognizes the OU.”
One of the most popular trends to hit the market has Americans happily and healthfully drinking their fruits and vegetables. In fact, SUJA, the nation’s leading organic and cold-pressed juice brand, was recently bought out by Coca cola.
SUJA began with two friends, Annie Lawless and Eric Ethans, who decided to create their own healthful juices. Relying on store-bought produce and repurposed coconut water bottles, they started a home-delivery service, much like the long-ago milkman. With the addition of James Brennan and Jeff Church, two experienced entrepreneurs, they created a wildly successful healthful juice venture.
Using a breakthrough displacement technology called High Pressure Processing (HPP) a heatless form of pasteurization that involves directing a huge amount of pressure onto a plastic bottle, they were able to offer a product that lasts up to roughly nine times longer than freshly made cold-pressed juice.
Proud to be what it calls “juice without the junk,” SUJA currently produces three pressed juice lines – Classic, Elements & Suja, as well as its functional beverages – Probiotic Waters, Drinking Vinegars & Kombuchas sold by national retailers such as Whole Foods, Kroger, Safeway, Costco, Publix, Target and Albertson.
“We go from farm to bottle in eight days,” says Bella Tamimi, senior brand manager at SUJA. “We don’t use additives, preservatives, or emulsifiers. What you see is what you get.”
Despite the rush for RTD good-for-you drinks, most entrepreneurial attempts to cash in on the trend don’t make it past the first year.
“The beverage industry has more startups than any other industry,” says Rabbi Yisroel Blitz, OU RFR who supervises Gatorade, Coke facilities, Treetop Apple Juice, Kroger’s Apple Juice, V8 for Campbells among others. “Of the 20 different bottling companies over the years, half of them are no longer around.”
According to business experts, once a product catches on with the top fifteen percent of income earners, then its set. Though coffee and tea manufacturers sit safely in that category, they too have jumped onto the wholesome drinking wagon.
Mother Parkers, a 100-year-old specialty coffee roasting facility established the first organic-certified coffee plant in North America. Involved in hot fill and cold fill production, the company also turns out coffee and tea capsules.
“Our capsules are a big hit,” says Nancy Madamombe, QA manager at Mother Parkers Tea and Coffee. “People want the easiest way to make a small amount of coffee and tea, without waste.”
The fourth largest roaster in North America, the Mother Parkers’ liquid-dispensed beverage solutions include iced cappuccinos, iced coffees, fruit smoothies and slush concentrate. The vast majority of the products are OU certified. [Kosher consumers are encouraged to look for the OU symbol.]
AriZona Tees Up!
For over two decades, AriZona Beverage Company has made toting a large Aztec-designed can of exotic-flavored ice tea fashionable. Mike Kutner, vice president of procurement and manufacturing, attributes the company’s continued success to not only its unique packaging, but also to high-quality ingredients and aggressive pricing. AriZona is the second-largest ready-to-drink tea brand in America, behind only Lipton – the longtime tea-staple that now offers a Wellness line of herbal blends, as well as Organic Black tea and KeurigHotcups. It doesn’t hurt to keep up with the trends.
AriZona tea enthusiasts are enjoying vitamin-enhanced Green Tea Energy Shot drinks, a variety of fruit-flavored Sparkling Water with Minerals, CocoZona coconut water, AriZona Vapor Water with electrolytes, among others.
“If coconut water is doing well, we come out with a coconut water. If vitamin water is doing well, we come up with a vitamin water,” says Kutner. “We’ve also come out with original products that have become extremely popular.”
AriZona’s Arnold Palmer line of drinks, for instance. A refreshing mixture of lemonade and ice tea, the recipe was invented by one of America’s greatest professional golfers. Palmer, who passed away last year, aced Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournaments throughout the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and ‘70’s.
“When we first came out with it, we thought it would appeal to the older crowd,” says Kutner. “Turns out the high school and college kids are also buying it.”
One serious tea-aficionado-turned-entrepreneur travels the globe in search of the finest tea leaves.
Steve Schwartz, founder and CEO of Art of Tea, a tea importer and wholesaler based in Los Angeles, California, blends and custom crafts organic teas and botanicals for the hospitality industry, restaurants, hotels and cafes. Known in the tea industry as a Master Tea Blender, Schwartz generated a company that has become a primary purveyor of high end organic and specialty teas. Its blends have won awards offered under Art of Tea’s private label program for tea companies around the world. Due to public demand, they’ve jumped from hospitality to retail.
“People started asking the establishments where they could buy the teas,” says Madison Way, marketing coordinator.
All of Art of Tea’s teas – tisanes, flavored or unflavored are OU Kosher.
To think it all started when Schwartz decided to backpack to tea farms in China and Japan to witness how the world’s finest tea leaves were grown and processed. His family and friends thought it a bit eccentric. They no longer do.
More and more beverage labels boast organic, natural, low sugar, non-GMO, vitamin-enhanced ingredients. But, which of these trends and their accompanying explosion of products will secure market-longevity?
Rabbi Blitz states it simply. “If consumers like it, they’ll buy it again.”
HPP has been used in the United States since the mid-1990’s, when companies began using intense pressure (sometimes up to 120,000 pounds per square inch, or 10 times greater than the pressure at the bottom of the deepest ocean) to preserve guacamole, vegetable purees, meats and seafood. Juice companies, such as SUJA, have learned how to harness HPP for their own products.
Bayla Sheva Brenner is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Behind the Union Symbol. Baylashevabrenner@outlook.com