Leading filler SIG first launched the technology last year in tandem with China’s two leading dairy groups, Inner Mongolia Mengniu Dairy and Inner Mongolia Yili.
The firms produced, respectively, UHT milk drinks with nata de coco (‘cream of coconut’) and rice grains, and SIG said the products had established a new beverage category in China.
Asked why SIG Combibloc chose to introduce drinksplus in China, a spokeswoman told BeverageDaily.com: "In China, the added-value of fruit and vegetable in food products is very well received and has a long tradition, for example fruit and jelly bits in desserts."
She added: "When presenting the drinksplus concept to customers in the beverage industry, we received enormous interest in the system concept in the US and Europe as well. Further trendy beverage creations are already poised to launch on the market in the near future."
The system allows fruit and vegetable pieces, coconut flakes, nuts and cereal grains to be added to aseptic cartons, using standard SIG filling machines for liquid dairy and non-carbonated soft drinks (NCSD).
The technology can process individual particulates of up to 6mm in length and width, and comprises a ‘drinksplus kit’ with valves, shafts and fill nozzles, “tailored to provide an optimal flow when filling innovative drinks containing particulates”.
SIG Combibloc told BeverageDaily.com that it had three technical processing options for implementing the drinksplus concept using its standard machines:
- Single heat treatment: ideal for viscous products such as smoothies (where bits are evenly distributed), this involves mixing liquid and particulates then heat treating them via a tubular heat exchanger.
- Separate heat treatment: suited to less viscous products such as milk mix drinks or fruit juice drinks, this option involves processing liquids via a heat exchanger. The solid particulate supplier provides its product in a mobile aseptic barrel docked to the processing line just before the filling machine, with pieces then added into the product flow.
- Separate heat treatment: the second method for treating less viscous products involves treating liquid components and solid particulates onsite in the producer's plant with two separate heat exchangers, then using a mixing unit to combine them prior to filling in cartons.
Benefits for beverage manufacturers in adopting the technology were several, according to SIG.
Firstly, the drinksplus system allowed them to break into a completely new market segment for products in aseptic cartons, enabling supplementation of existing brand portfolios with added-value products, the company said.
“Combining top quality drinks with added extras underscores the premium nature of the products, and fits perfectly with one of the key current trends in the beverage market,” it added.
Unusual taste experiences
Customers wanted both healthy food and interesting and unusual taste experiences, according to SIG, with fruit pieces, vegetables and grains seen as both healthy and added-value extras.
“In addition, drinks containing nutritious particles have a special consistency and provide new, unusual drinking experiences,” the firm added.
Beyond China, Danone-Unimilk in Russia has launched two whey drinks with fruit under the ‘Actual’ brand, in 25cl cartons (pictured) and targeted at young active women wanting a ‘healthy snack’, but also desire “new and indulgent taste experiences”.
Premium juice maker Tipco in Thailand had also launched ‘FruitPlus’ in 25cl cartons, SIG said, which included mandarin orange juice with real pulp and sacs, and fruit and vegetable juices with aloe vera pieces.
Similar launches have also taken place in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and SIG said it had collaborated with ingredients producers to create its own new juice concepts.
These include an apple and plum juice with aloe vera bits, a yogurt drink with cereal grains and apple pieces, and a chocolate drink with coconut flakes.