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US: The freshness war that’s dividing the juice industry

Cold-pressed juice only has a shelf life of a few days since harmful bacteria can grow in the unpasteurised drink; juice that is HPP’ed, however, can be safely consumed for several weeks. But is weeks-old juice authentic? This is the question at the heart of the juice industry schism.

Whereas heat pasteurisation alters juice’s taste and nutrient content, FDA-approved HPP does not involve temperature manipulation and is said to preserve juice’s integrity. During the non-thermal process, juices are bottled, sealed, and then loaded into a steel chamber. Cold water enters the chamber via high-pressure pipes, effectively killing microorganisms and increasing companies’ abilities to go into wholesale.

Evolution Fresh, most widely known as the juice company that Starbucks acquired in 2011, was the first major juice producer to use HPP. Since then, several other brands have followed suit. BluePrint, the original architects of the juice cleanse craze, started off as an unprocessed juice company in 2007, but after founders Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss sold the operation to Hain Celestial in 2012 (leaving just 18 months later), it began to treat its juices with HPP. This has allowed it to be carried at places like Whole Foods and Target, where some sort of pasteurisation process is required by the FDA.

Mary Leong, BluePrint’s head of research and development, says the company began to use HPP because it adds an element of safety to its products. “BluePrint protects every juice with HPP,” she explains. “The advantages are a safe juice, as HPP uses literally tons of pressure to inhibit microflora growth which naturally extends the shelf life. Unlike heat pasteurisation, pascalisation is an external process—the product itself is never touched and never, ever heated. The cold temperature at which the juice is treated, plus the minimal structural impact that pressure has on vitamins, enzymes, and nutritional compounds, means that the juice remains raw, nutrients remain intact, and the taste is unchanged. By incorporating this alternative to pasteurisation into our process, we decrease the risk of contamination and improve the safety of our juice.”

Suja, the juicing giant that arrived on the scene in 2012 and has made serious waves (its 2014 revenue is expected to go “north of $40-million”), is another major player that uses HPP.

“HPP allows us to be safe for pregnant women and the elderly, but doesn’t affect the nutritional value,” says Suja co-founder Annie Lawless. “Our juice is higher quality than Tropicana or Naked. HPP allows us the convenience factor that other juice shops don’t have because you can’t buy their products at a grocery store. I’ll admit, I was skeptical about HPP at first, but when Whole Foods became interested in Suja, we did a lot of testing for HPP and it’s amazing how it keeps the integrity of the juice’s quality. The purists, the mom-and-pops don’t know enough about the process. They lack the knowledge of what it really does.”

HPP defenders like Lawless and Leong insist on the high caliber of their HPP juices, but their products are certainly not met without objection. Last October, a group of consumers brought a $5 million class action lawsuit against Hain Celestial, alleging that BluePrint’s claims of being “100% raw” and “unpasteurised” were misleading and that the products were specifically marketed in order to charge a premium. According to FDA regulation, juices that undergo HPP cannot be labelled “fresh”—but the definition of “raw” is much more loosely defined. The suit was dismissed in July, but a similar suit was bought against Suja this past February.

“The juice products are not ‘raw,'” reads the Suja lawsuit. “The effects of HPP on the Juice Products are identical to those of traditional pasteurisation—inactivated enzymes, inactivated probiotics, altered physical properties of the product, and denatured proteins, among other undesirable qualities. As a result of Defendant’s use of HPP, its Juice Products are nothing more than run-of-the-mill, processed juices, and fail to provide the same nutrients, enzymes, and vitamins that the products have prior to being subjected to HPP.”

“Companies are trying to capitalise on the cold press craze, and it’s somewhat deceptive,” notes Eric Helms, the founder of Juice Generation. “Ninety-nine percent of people don’t know these juices sit on the shelf for 25 days. They are blissfully unaware, and it’s not great for the consumer. I would never embrace that practice.”

The claims against Suja and BluePrint are not unique. Companies like Naked, Kashi, and Trader Joe’s have faced similar lawsuits over the last year or so for what some believe are deceiving health claims. Naked, which is owned by PepsiCo, actually had to cough up $9-million in 2013 and remove all mentions of the word “natural” from its labels.

But when it comes to HPP specifically, the line becomes murky, mostly because the science surrounding it is. For every study that labels HPP inferior, there’s one that insists HPP maintains juice integrity. There are research-backed claims that it’s the “greatest promise for delivering on consumer demands of safety and health,” and there are studies that say its effect in “sterilization of bacterial spores and inactivation of peroxidase is not good” and can’t be improved with increased pressure…. Read the full article