Fruit juices deliver several things consumers look for in beverages: something nutritious, clean label, tasty, natural and portable.
But these beverages are also high in sugar. Squeezing the juice out of fruits concentrates all of the natural sugars. A single glass of juice contains the sugar content of several fruits.
According to USDA data, 12 fluid ounces of 100% orange juice has 31.2 grams of sugar. In comparison, a regular-sized can of cola, also 12 fluid ounces, has 36.8 grams of sugar. Studies have shown that drinking juice can have as many health consequences as drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.
While many companies lower the sugar content in their juices by mixing them with water, less-sweet juices or artificial sweeteners, some companies use food tech to do it differently.
Israel-based Better Juice uses an enzymatic process to convert sugars into other compounds, including fibers and proteins. This procedure keeps the juice tasting sweet, stay nutritious and remove many of the naturally occurring sugars.
“The main goal for the industry is to reduce sugar, and most of the companies are trying to find a different substitute,” said Gali Yarom, co-founder of Better Juice. An engineer who has worked at several food and dairy companies, she said Better Juice looks to “really reduce sugar and not replace the sugar.”
Yarom and co-founder Eran Blachinsky started Better Juice in 2018. Blachinsky is familiar with the high-sugar limitations of fruit juice, Yarom said, since one of his parents has diabetes. During its inception, Better Juice was one of the first companies to receive backing from The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, a funder and tech innovator sponsored by Israeli food giant Strauss-Group.
Global food and commodities giant Louis Dreyfus Company deployed similar enzymatic technology in Brazil. Last November, the company announced the development of a not-from-concentrate orange juice with 30% less natural sugar and more than three times the dietary fiber content.
Currently, LDC is producing the company’s reduced-sugar juice in Brazil and Belgium facilities and plans to launch it as a product in China this year.
Less sugar, similar sweetness
To reduce the sugar content in fruit juice, Better Juice creates enzymes, immobilizes them and puts them into a bioreactor. The juice flows through the bioreactor, and the enzymes convert sucrose molecules to dietary fibers; glucose to gluconic acid; and fructose to sorbitol.
GEA Group, a German engineering firm, makes the specialized bioreactors for the sugar-reducing process. Food manufacturers can install the enzymatic technology and the bioreactor equipment directly into their facilities.
“As a startup, it’s really [an] advantage,” said Yarom who sees Better Juice as a biotech company. “It’s a quality system. It gives a legit solution to the industry.”
Better Juice can customize the amount of sugar in juice that gets converted to other things, said Yarom. The maximum the company can do now, she said, is an 80% conversion.
Most juices still taste appealing with 30% less natural sugar, Yarom said. And any product with at least 25% less sugar than a traditional version is allowed to carry a “reduced sugar” labeling claim, according to FDA regulations.
But, Yarom said, there are still applications for deeper sugar reductions. A company could remove half of the natural sugar in juice and supplement with a low-calorie sweetener. The juice could be healthier in total but still just as sweet.
Similar to Better Juice’s method, LDC’s process uses enzymes to reduce sweetness, said Georges-Edouard Duriez, head of development and strategy, in an email.
While LDC did not provide details of how its reduction technique works, Duriez said the sugar-reducing process is the result of five years of R&D efforts at LDC’s laboratory in Bebedouro, Brazil.
“This development is in line with the group’s strategic vision to meet growing consumer expectations for nutritious, healthy and responsibly produced dietary options, in particular, demand for natural and clean-label products, with reduced sugar intake and higher fiber content,” Duriez said.
The pathway to less sugary juice
Knowing how to reduce the sugar in juice is just one part of the challenge for Better Juice. The company is gathering all of the data to apply for regulatory approval in different countries. Better Juice plans to submit its application later this month, Yarom said, to receive generally recognized as safe status from the FDA.
But even if Better Juice receives approval quickly, it takes time for a manufacturer to validate, formulate and prepare for a new process to make its juice, Yarom said.
Last year, Better Juice opened a demonstration facility, which has the capacity to reduce sugar in 250 million liters of juice a year. Yarom said manufacturers can bring their juice to the company’s facility in Israel and test out the enzymatic process.
Better Juice also has a pilot unit at GEA Group’s innovation center in Germany. And there is equipment at a U.S. West Coast business-to-business juice manufacturer’s facility, which Yarom would not name for confidentiality reasons.
Juice makers in Asia, including one in the Philippines, also are renting Better Juice’s equipment to see if the company’s sugar-reducing technology is something those manufacturers want to use permanently.
At the beginning of the year, Yarom said Better Juice’s pilot plant in Israel was quite busy. Several U.S. and European companies brought their juice products, spent a week running them through the sugar-reduction systems, and then took the end products from those trials away for further testing and R&D.
Better Juice’s plant is booked for trials through September, Yarom said. “I believe in 2024, for sure, we’ll see [our technology in use] from different companies and launches.”
LDC’s technology is proprietary, just for the juice that the larger company produces, Duriez said in an email. The initial rollout is planned in the Asia Pacific region, but there are plans to expand its juice to industry customers in North America, Europe and South America.
More sugar reduction in the future
Better Juice started out working with reducing sugar in orange juice, which has a large market, and products with a lot of natural sugar. But Yarom said the company isn’t stopping there.
Tests completed last month showing sugar reduction in berry and cherry juices — which are 10% to 20% natural sugar — indicate the enzymatic technology works for both fresh-produced and concentrated juices from those fruits.
But there aren’t just naturally occurring sugars in fruit juices. Other beverages, such as milk and non-alcoholic beer, also have high sugar contents. A 12-ounce serving of milk has about 12 grams of natural sugar. Non-alcoholic beer can have as much as 28.5 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can.
Better Juice is focusing its enzymatic technology into reducing sugar content in these beverages as well, Yarom said. It has prepared a proof of concept for milk, converting lactose into gluconic acid and is working on doing the same thing with maltose in non-alcoholic beer.
While many companies that provide sugar-reduction solutions have concentrated on sweetener replacements, Yarom said she expects more will be take the path that Better Juice has chosen.
“Honestly, we don’t really have competitors in our market,” Yarom said, “and I believe that you will see it in the future.”