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Cashew juice, a new apple in Pepsi’s eye

When the cashew harvest starts in India’s Ratnagiri district, the orchards clinging to the lush, wrinkled hills are blanketed by a brilliant yellow, orange and red carpet, created after farmers pluck the nut and toss its stem to the ground. There, the cashew apples, as the stems are known, quickly rot, except for a few used to brew a local spirit called feni that is popular in neighbouring Goa.

This season, however, the carpet will be thinner because Pepsi is betting that the tangy, sweet juice from cashew apples can be the next coconut water or açaí juice.

“Coconut, pomegranate and lime juices are popular, but affordability is becoming a major issue,” said VD Sarma, vice president for global procurement at PepsiCo India. “So we are always looking for new juices sources that are locally produced to help bring prices down for us and for consumers.”

The demanding demographic group known as millennials, as well as new consumers among the world’s emerging middle class, have a restless appetite that is driving food companies to experiment on a grand scale with flavours and ingredients whose appeal until recently were largely local.
Quinoa, a nutty, protein-dense grain that was a staple of the pre-Colombian diet in the Andes, is now in short supply, thanks to the voracious appetite of global consumers. Chia, a seed rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can be found in everything from smoothies to muffins.

Starting next year, cashew juice will go into a mixed fruit juice drink sold in India under the Tropicana label, replacing more expensive juices like apple, pineapple and banana. Eventually, the company hopes to add it to drinks around the world.

“We can tell a story around it,” said Anshul Khanna, senior manager of juice and juice drinks at PepsiCo India. “The cashew apple is exotic and appealing, and we think it is a premium product.”

Farmers here are a bit baffled by Pepsi’s interest in their cashew apples. While the cashew is a favorite nut worldwide, the so-called apple from which each nut grows is almost always left on the ground or thrown away, where it begins to ferment within 24 hours of picking.

And the juice by itself, while highly nutritious, is abundant in tannins that impart an acrid taste.

“I thought it was a little strange that they wanted to buy cashew apples — but I didn’t like to question a new source of money,” said Sanjay Pandit, who together with his father, Hanumant Pandit, cultivates about 300 cashew trees in the village of Kondye.

Brazilians are the biggest consumers of the yellow and red apples today; a handful were featured in FIFA’s advertising for the World Cup. But Brazil, a major global source of cashew nuts, processes only about 12 percent of its crop of cashew apples annually because of the challenges posed by their short shelf life, according to research by the African Cashew Alliance, an industry trade group that is also looking for ways to cash in on cashew apples.

Cashew juice also shows up in various local products around the world like Cashewy in Thailand, which is promoted by its producer as “the beverage of gods”. Nutrition and health websites extol its high vitamin C content, and there are even claims that it helps burn fat and enhances sexual performance.
Pepsi stumbled across the fruit in Brazil a few years ago, when Mehmood Khan, its global head of research and development, was working there to get the company’s coconut water business up and running. A local supplier took him to a cashew orchard, where he saw the colourful apples and wondered how they could be used.

The big stumbling block, Pepsi learned, to any commercial use was the fruit’s quick fermentation. “That’s a risk for us — we can’t have Tropicana with alcohol in it,” Sarma said…..


New York Times: Read the full article