Speaking at the Zenith International Soft Drinks Industry Conference in London today (7 May) Lamont said the amount of sugar in juices has become the “new boy” fronting the “easy headline[s]” written about the soft drinks industry.
A recent report from MailOnline, for example, claimed fruit juice contains as much sugar as fizzy drinks and went on to suggest that people who drank 500ml of grape juice every day for three months had increased insulin resistance and a larger waist circumference.
Lamont said: “There’s a defence piece that has to be done. There’s a role we have to partake in educating consumers and we have to innovate as without that we will be left behind by consumers, retailers and falling foul of the perspectives from a legislation and government [point of view].”
The industry needs to work together to find a new way of presenting new information and bringing “new news” into the fruit and juices debate, Lamont added.
Innocent itself has spent the past 12 months speaking to nutritionists and research houses to build an evidence base to counter future negative PR about the sector.
Lamont said the company is now “very confident” it will now has empirical substance to its counter argument that the consumption of juices and smoothies is “net nutritionally positive” – which takes into account the amount of sugar consumed but also added benefits such as antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients.
Innocent will also use these findings to tell more proactive stories through channels such as PR and social media about the net nutritionally positive benefits of its products, he added.
Behind the scenes Innocent is also meeting policy makers and influential nutritionists so when stories about “unhealthy” juices and smoothies appear the media, they are quickly negated.
Lamont said opinion formers in this area already have a “balanced, common-sense view” about the nutritional value of juices and smoothies, but added this is not “necessarily replicated in what you see in the Daily Mail”.
“As a brand and industry that’s a hard challenge to meet and all you can do is continually communicate to a wide group of people…one of my biggest fears is that policy is driven by these [negative] headlines and that’s when we are in very dangerous territory,” he added.
Innocent won’t trial sweeteners, but is testing new drinking occasions
Lamont said it is unlikely Innocent would pursue the sweetener route of reducing the amount of sugar in its products – as owner Coca-Cola has done by introducing the natural sweetener Stevia across its portfolio – as they currently encroach too much on the taste of the drinks.
However, he said Innocent’s future innovations in the category are likely to include more “nutrient dense” products that may have higher calorie content but play a different role than a normal drink, such as a breakfast or lunchtime meal replacement.
Earlier this month Innocent launched a £3m marketing campaign to support its juice range showing the lengths its suppliers go to in order to select and tend to the mangoes and apples that go into the products.
The campaign’s launch faced a hiccup last week when the European Union ordered a ban on shipments of mangoes from India – but Innocent maintained the ad would go ahead as the mangoes in its drinks are “100 per cent” safe to drink.
Fruit juice value sales fell 2.2 per cent year on year to £1.82bn in 2013, according to the British Soft Drinks Association 2014 UK soft drinks report, which is compiled using Zenith International data. Volume sales fell by 5 per cent as the high sugar of the pure fruit content in juices worked against the sector as a whole in 2013.
Smoothie sales also continued to struggle, with volume sales down 4.6 per cent to 50 million litres as high prices prompted consumers to migrate to other soft drink options, the report suggests.