Wayne Lutomski from Welch’s Foods has hit out at ‘experts’ who describe sugar as a poison and says they don’t know what they’re talking about, as he defends the health and wellness benefits of 100% juice.
Speaking at Zenith International’s Innobev Global Soft Drinks Congress in Lisbon last month, Lutomski – an industry veteran whose CV includes stints at Gallo Wines, Snapple, PepsiCo and Starbucks – offered strong backing to the 100% juice industry.
Welch’s 100% pure grape juice – the world’s leading grape juice brand – is made from Concord grapes, and the executive said it has a “tremendous amount of polyphenols and antioxidants, and really does have some health heart properties and so forth”.
But he attacked so-called ‘experts’ on sugar, referencing a recent Leatherhead Food Research panel discussion he listened to. “I don’t know if you knew? But sugar is addictive, sugar is poisonous – at least that’s what the experts say,” he told the Lisbon congress.
“They’re certainly painting a very ugly picture for our industry. But quite frankly, I’d argue that they’re not experts. Because if sugar’s poisonous they don’t get what sugar is, and how our product needs sugar to help it deliver,” Lutomski added.
'100% juices hit health and wellness sweet spot!'
Wayne’s Grape Juice contains the sugar from 40 grapes (as part of the juice) squeezed into a glass, he said. “And there’s not much wrong with that!”
“However you try to define health and wellness, one thing is certain. Our consumers want the products that they buy to contribute to that health and wellness,” Lutomski said.
100% juices hit this health and wellness ‘sweet spot’ by contributing to fruit and vegetable intake, he added, while they also contain no added sugar and are very nutrient dense.
“In terms of micro-nutrition, Welch’s provides polyphenols and antioxidants, while with orange juice you’ll have the natural vitamin C,” he said.
Moreover, Lutomski insisted that 100% juice “has been shown not to contribute to diabetes, through numerous studies, despite the fact that it’s loaded with sugar”.
78% of consumers by beverages because they taste good
Many juices nowadays are fortified with fiber, calcium or Vitamin C he said, which added to their value, and can deliver the consistent quality and taste that fresh fruit sometimes lacks.
This is vital, he added, because 78% of consumers globally buy beverages because they taste good, which in itself raises challenges, given vociferous calls to cut sugar in drinks.
Nonetheless, Lutmoski accepted that a new nutrition paradigm on health and wellness meant brands would be wise to develop low sugar, high-fiber products with simple, clean labels and a ‘natural’ health halo.
“The majority of consumers want natural – they may not necessarily know what it might be, because there are all types of definitions. But they want fresh and natural,” he said.
Identifying two different tracks for beverage NPD, Lutomski said there was ‘positive nutrition’ – heart health, cholesterol lowering, gut health, and ‘good for you’, i.e. no sugar, preservatives or additives.
Two NPD tacks: 'Positive nutrition' or 'Good for You'
He used the example of HyVee Heart Health 100% orange juice (with plant stanols to lower cholesterol) and Woolworth Select tropical juice (no added sugar, preservatives, artificial colors or flavors) as respective examples of each.
Taking a sideswipe at European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) regulated health claims environment in the EU – Welch’s can’t talk about lots of things, because Lutomski insists EFSA’s rules are based on inappropriate pharmaceutical-style laws – he hit out at the culture of fear created by the US legal environment.
“Law firms have been setup whose business model is to sue corporation because they claim ‘natural’ or ‘heart health’ because there may not be enough research behind it,” he said.
Because the FDA in the US has not defined what ‘natural’ is, they’ve found a loophole to sue companies, with the idea that the company won’t want to take it to court, and will settle beforehand for millions of dollars, making it very difficult to put basic claims on your product,” Lutomski said.
“Welch’s Concord Juice is as natural as can be – literally the squeezing 40 grapes into a bottle. And we can’t call it natural! There’s a problem with that. This is a real issue that in the US and Europe we’re going to have to work around,” he added.