Reuters yesterday quoted Randy Papadellis, CEO of the cranberry cooperative Ocean Spray saying at an industry conference: "I believe low-calorie drinks will be as big a segment of the juice categories as they are in the carbonated soft drinks categories."
This news will be welcomed by those concerned by America's soaring rates of obesity. Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) suggested in a study, published in the October edition of the American Journal of Preventive Health, that energy intake from sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks in the US increased by 135 percent between about 1977 and 2001.
The authors of the study - Dr. Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition and a fellow at the Carolina Population Center, and nutrition graduate student Samara Joy Nielsen - concluded that the obesity epidemic could be brought to a halt if the volume of sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks was brought under control.
"There has been considerable controversy about the promotion of soft drinks in schools and elsewhere," Popkin said. "Extensive research on all age groups has shown that consuming these soft drinks and fruit drinks increases weight gain in children and adults."
The study discovered that between 1977 and 2001, total energy derived from soft drinks each day rose on average from 2.8 percent to 7 percent, which led to nearly a tripling of calories, and energy intake from fruit drinks per person grew from 1.1 percent to 2.2 percent
However, the American Beverage Association countered these claims by stating that the industry is aware of nutrition problems in the US and that low-cal alternatives and vitamin-enriched soft drinks have been produced in recent years
"Soft drink manufacturers understand that many people are struggling to keep their calories down and manage their weight, and we've introduced an array of no cal and low cal soft drinks, teas, and juice drinks to help them do that," said Kathleen Dezio, spokeswoman for the beverage association.
There is also increasing room for healthier alternatives in the drinks industry as the carbonated drinks market continues to suffer from the country's increasing interest in weight and wellness.
In 2003 beverage industry volume was 13.48 billion 192-ounce cases, a 3.2 percent increase from the prior year. During this period, carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) represented around 29 percent of US volume and $63.9 billion of retail value. Forty percent of last year's remaining sales volume was roughly divided between beer and milk, with about 11 percent each, and coffee and bottled water with 9 percent each., according to a report published by Fitch Ratings in November.
The obesity rate in America has doubled during the last three decades, according to the Centres for Disease Control, from 14.5 percent in 1971 to 30.9 percent in 2000.