Five years ago the juice category was relatively straightforward. Retailers stocked the 'staples' of apple, orange and pineapple, maybe even cranberry if they were feeling adventurous.
Not any more. Today's retailers and consumers are bombarded with choice - concentrate or not-from-concentrate, ambient or chilled, juice drink or pure juice. And then there are the flavours. Orange has given way to cranberry, which has given way to pomegranate, which has given way to goji, acai and yumberry.
Manufacturers have spotted a trend and are out to squeeze the market for all it's worth. AC Nielsen figures for the 52 weeks ending May 12, 2007 show the total juice market now represents an £1.87bn category, with £362m in convenience.
It seems juice drinks are on to a good thing. AC Nielsen business insights director Jonathan Banks says: "Other categories are struggling to increase the pounds per litre or kilogram they are charging and we are seeing fierce competition between a small number of players, the growth of private label, more volume sold on promotion and promotions which are getting deeper. But juices are managing to add value and are doing it by giving people healthy, indulgent and quality solutions. This is increasing the volume of sales but, more importantly, the value, which is going up even faster."
Banks says retailers need to cover two bases: "either the cheapest of the cheapest, or the best of the best".
Del Monte commercial director Leigh Edwards agrees. His research has found that consumers are looking for larger cartons and lower prices for their breakfast drink, but are willing to pay a premium for what they consume at weekends and in the evening.
"From our research we know consumers are looking for taste, more exotic products, convenience and then price, in that order. Large pack sizes are primarily for breakfast, but there's also an all-day hydration requirement. In the evening people want alcohol replacements, where exotic blends are seen as most relevant. Consumers will buy breakfast products on price, but will then treat themselves to a more premium product for special occasions," he explains.
This is reflected in the figures. Although the total chilled category is growing much faster than ambient at 24% and 7% respectively, AC Nielsen research found that 89% of households buy ambient juice, while 75% buy chilled.
Brand leader Tropicana still dominates the chilled category with total sales rising in 2005 to £174.2m from £152.2m the year before. Tropicana marketing manager Aaron Mahadevan says there's been a huge shift of people trading up from ambient staple juices to not-from-concentrate and chilled varieties. Its flagship brand Tropicana Pure Premium contains 100% juice not from concentrate.
He says: "People are scrutinising brands and are becoming much more savvy about natural sources of vitamins and minerals. We have recently put Guideline Daily Amounts on the front of our packs as we have found that consumers are demanding much more information about what they are getting."
However, he admits that chilled juices hold a challenge for convenience retailers tight on space. "What keeps me awake at night is finding that fridge space. It's one of the biggest challenges for us in the huge shift from ambient to chilled," he says.
Longer-life brands are adamant that their products can offer comparable health benefits. V8 is found in the ambient section and is made from concentrate, but still offers 100% juice. The original V8 vegetable juice has been in the market for about 30 years but two years ago it went mainstream with a fruit and vegetable version combining seven fruits and carrot. According to IIR, the launch has driven a 100% sales increase with sales up from £3m in 2005 to £6.4m in 2006.
Michael Lawson from V8 says: "Convenience retailers are in a very difficult position because they don't have the shelf space of the multiples and have to be selective. But I hope that when they look at what they put on their shelves, they are offering consumers a real choice."
Other ambient brands have used new technologies to provide freshness. New brand Sunraysia is a range of direct squeezed juices - its factory is in middle of the fruit fields and the juices are squeezed and bottled on the day of harvest. Brand manager Justin Presser says: "We are found in the ambient section because we vacuum pack the juices into glass. This both increases the packaging's recyclability and there's no seepage where the plastic or aluminium leaks into the juice and changes the nature and flavour of the product."
Presser says the biggest trend in the market is the idea of purity and simplicity. "People want to get back to the basics, before the era of mass-produced consumer goods, and are looking for foods that are fresh, natural and untouched," he says.
But while juice drinks with low juice content have seen a decline, some ingredients are not palatable in high proportions. The Cranberry Classic variety from Ocean Spray is only 25% juice as cranberries are very astringent with a natural lack of sugar.
To make cranberry juice palatable, the drink is sweetened by the addition of other fruits, or by adding sugar.
UK Drinks business development manager Jonathan Duffin says: "In the middle of last year we launched our Grower's Select range with cranberry & blueberry and cranberry & pomegranate, and this year we added cranberry & acerola. We relaunched to kick-start the range."
The excitement generated by the buzzword 'superfruits' has transferred to the shelves. Cranberry was one of the first superfruits to the market, but more exotic varieties have since emerged - acai berries are reported to contain twice as many antioxidants as blueberries, and goji berries are said to contain 500 times more vitamin C than oranges.
But the real success story for superfruits is the pomegranate. Pomegreat, the brand that has driven the growth, is now selling 2.1 million litres every month.
According to Britvic's soft drinks category report, in 2006 the brand experienced a sales growth of 264% and was the biggest success story in the juice drinks category. The ambient range now sells in four variants - original, Pomegreat & blueberry, Pomegreat & raspberry and Pomegreat & acai.
All of the big juice players have been quick to clock the superfruits trend, resulting in a succession of new launches over the past year.
In February Tropicana Pure Premium launched a range of three superfruit juices - cranberry blend, pomegranate blend and blueberry blend. And last year Princes relaunched its Cape Juice drinks range with new packs and blends including apple & blueberry and strawberry & lime.
Brands that have been slow to take advantage of growing consumer sophistication have suffered. Del Monte is a staple fixture in the juices category, but Edwards admits that a lack of innovation within
the company has seen it in decline for several years. Latest AC Nielsen figures show that the brand's sales fell 30% between 2005 and 2006.
Two-and-a-half years ago, a new team with blue chip backgrounds focused on turning the business around by plugging gaps in the juice market. Alongside the original juices, Del Monte has launched its Distinction Range that includes more exotic blends, such as gold pineapple & mango and pomegranate & pear.
Outside the mainstream, more adventurous consumers have welcomed new market entrants. Brands such as The Juice Doctor and The Berry Company offer niche juice drinks with modern packaging and exotic ingredients.
The Berry Company started trading with traditional raspberry, blackberry and blueberry juices and last summer released goji and acai in both 330ml and 1 litre formats. Its latest launch is the yumberry, a superfruit from China.
Khaled Yafi, head of The Berry Company, says: "Shopping for food has become like shopping for fashion - it has become the newest form of snobbery. It used to be a chore, but now people enjoy the experience."
Yafi says independent retailers are now more open to stocking newer, niche juices. "A few years ago, talking to convenience store buyers and wholesalers was like talking to a brick wall," he says. "They are now much more open to listening to new ideas. What retailers stock can be determined by price point and sometimes the typical consumer is price sensitive, but I have noticed a change in the evolution of convenience store owner's shelves."
The popularity of juice has grown as more consumers look to heed the government's message of healthy living and five fruit and vegetable portions per day. Juice is a good way to notch up a portion because it can be consumed on-the-go.
Research by The Juice Doctor has also shown that 80% of UK adults are aware of the government's new recommendation to drink two litres of water a day, but 75% are in a permanent state of dehydration.
The Juice Doctor Hydration Fix products hydrate by providing a natural blend of fruit juices and spring water with potassium instead of sodium salts and beet sugar, to "actively encourage water uptake".
As with adult brands, health is a major driver for kids' juices, with mums increasingly aware of product ingredients. Many schools already ban children from drinking anything other than fruit juices, waters and flavoured milks. As a result, juices and smoothies have captured an increased share of the kids' lunchbox market.
Princes Soft Drinks marketing director Chris Wright explains: "Mums do not simply want kids' drinks with 'added vitamin C' or anything which they feel has been artificially introduced to the product - the decline of Sunny D is a clear example of this."
The same is true of the older demographic of customers, who want specific health benefits. Ocean Spray Cranberry juice and Sunraysia's range (including pure squeezed prune) have a target audience of females over 45 who are attracted to specific health benefits. "Older customers also have a much higher disposable income, tend to be more adventurous and will pay for quality products," says Sunraysia's Presser.
Packing a punch
Although the juice market is strong and growing stronger, the convenience sector isn't showing the growth seen in the rest of the market. AC Nielsen figures reveal that total juice sales have shown a year on year growth of 15%, whereas convenience comes in lower at 13%.
dawn till dusk
Del Monte's Edwards says the juice category has been slow to react to the growing need for impulse hydration and is still centred on breakfast juices.
"What consumers are looking for are healthy forms of juice to drink and to rehydrate with during the day," he says.
Manufacturers have eventually caught on, though, and responded with specially designed packs.
A contributing factor for Tropicana's growth has been a re-focus to take advantage of the impulse market. From being an almost exclusive supermarket brand in larger 1 litre and 1.75 litre cartons, it has opened up the convenience market with 330ml and 500ml varieties. As a result, over the past year Tropicana has added £11.6m to the impulse channel.
Pomegranate juice brands are now targeting the convenience sector, too. Following a trial of the 473ml bottle, POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice has extended its range with the introduction of a new 236ml single serving.
"The success of juices is that they have become far more adept to meeting people's requirements and providing convenience and snacking -type solutions so you can increase the number of drinking occasions," explains AC Nielsen's Banks.
So the dilemma remains: how to find enough chiller space to fit in the right formats in the right sizes and flavours. As Matt Crane, The Juice Doctor pure hydration director, says: "The challenge is the amount of chilled space available to provide choice to satisfy demand.
"Juice brands will need to increasingly invest in packaging and merchandising formats that provide additional points of sale in locations that supply has not yet reached or adequately fulfilled.
"Retailers also have to keep one eye on the consumer demographic and make sure they stock enough products for different age ranges."
The consumers are there and manufacturers are ready. With record temperatures predicted for summer, it might be time retailers increased their fridge space.
Dave Beese, Budgens Southam, Warwickshire
"The 'staple' juices - orange and apple - are still the largest part of our sales, but the growing part of the market is different flavours. We've found that people quite like the combination of having one 'staple' and one different juice in their weekly shop for variety during the week. They are also willing to pay for the more premium or unusual flavours as long as the quality of the product is right."
Paul Gravelle, Budgens, sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire
"Ambient is all about convenience - the products keep longer, but the move towards fresh is really huge. Premium brands like Copella and Tropicana sell really well, especially when they're on promotion. Ocean Spray Cranberry is also very popular, as are 'health-driven' products like pomegranate.
"We've got about two metres of space devoted to ambient and currently about one metre to fresh, but want to increase refrigeration space to keep up with demand and developments in fresh.
"The 'drink-now' concept is expanding and this means smaller bottles, which we merchandise in the Lunch Box fixture to give us extra space for chilled drinks and to drive lunchtime purchase."