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Starbucks Pours Money, And Health Hype, Into Pricey Juice

NPR | Oct. 15, 2013 12:17 p.m.

Contributed By:

Eliza Barclay

Most Americans don’t get the 4 to 6.5 cups of fruits and vegetables we’re supposed to consume every day, per government guidelines. But companies that make juice, especially high-end, “fresh” juice, are ready to come to our rescue.

The relatively new “super-premium” juice marketers are pushing more than just pretty colors and sweet flavors. They’re also trying to persuade Americans that getting fruits and vegetables from juice is convenient and pleasurable and will potentially alleviate your guilt about your unhealthy ways by blasting your system with “incredible nutrition.”

Look no further than Starbucks’ announcement this week that it has opened a $70 million, state-of-the-art “juicery” in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., where it plans to quadruple production of its Evolution Fresh juice, a brand it acquired in 2011.

The company says it’s betting its customers will make this juice a part of their daily habit — an additional beverage they pick up with their coffee in the morning. The juice is already available at 8,300 locations nationwide, including some branches of Whole Foods, but Starbucks spokeswoman Sanja Gould says the goal is to get it in all of the more than 12,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S.

A daily juice habit would be an expensive one for many. The suggested retail price of Evolution Fresh juice ranges from $2.99 to $6.99 for a 15.2 fluid ounce bottle. That’s competitive with BluePrint and Soju, two other growing national brands of cold-pressed juice.

Evolution Fresh juice argues in its marketing materials that cold-pressed juice is distinct and better than the likes of Ocean Spray or Tropicana. Evolution Fresh uses high-pressure processing, or HPP, instead of traditional heat pasteurization to kill microbes in the juice and extend the shelf life. And the company contends that this form of juice processing delivers more of the flavors, vitamins and nutrients of raw fruits and vegetables than traditional heat pasteurized juices.

“The real purpose of what we’re doing is keeping fruits and vegetables as close to their natural state as possible — that’s the goal for both taste and how it makes you feel [when you drink the juice],” says Chris Bruzzo, general manager for Evolution Fresh.

But is high-pressure processed juice really so different from the heat-processed stuff? We put the question to Rui Hai Liu, who heads a food science research lab at Cornell University.

When it comes to flavor, he says the answer is yes. But when it comes to nutrition? Not so much.

Liu says with the exception of the vitamin C in some fruits and vegetables, HPP juice does not retain more nutrients than pasteurized juice, as Starbucks and other companies have claimed.

“The nutrition in some fruits and vegetables is actually increased after they’ve been heated, so it really depends on what product we talk about,” says Liu. “And so overall, I wouldn’t say the nutrition quality is extremely higher in these new juices.”

Indeed, there’s a huge amount of variation between fruits and vegetables — many vitamins, minerals and valuable chemicals can be unlocked or blocked depending on preparation and the foods they’re eaten with, as we’ve reported. For example, tomatoes are best eaten with a little fat, like olive oil, while carrots will release more of their antioxidants when cooked.

The industry magazine BEVNET says the influence of celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian, both of whom are devotees of juice cleanses, has helped boost demand for juice as both a health food and a weight loss aid. But as we reported in a post debunking detox cleanses, it may be unwise to expect your juice, pasteurized or not, to remove anything nefarious from your body.

Another issue is that by consuming just the juice of a fruit or vegetable, you lose some of the dietary fiber that fills you up and slows down digestion. Some nutritionists have also argued that since we absorb liquids faster than solid food, juice causes a more dramatic spike in insulin levels than does eating whole fruits.

Still, Liu says there’s nothing wrong with companies trying to offer consumers new, palatable ways to consume fruits and vegetables.

“The key thing right now for America is to increase daily servings of fruit and vegetables,” says Liu. “We are far behind on that.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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