Michelle Obama’s PLEZi expands with carbonated fruit drink for tweens, on its mission to address the US’ ‘massive sweetness problem’

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Michelle Obama’s PLEZi expands with sugar-reduced tweens drink

Related tags Juice

Co-founded by former First Lady Michelle Obama, PLEZi Nutrition is on a mission not only to lower the sugar in beverages, but to fundamentally adjust kids’ palates to less sweet beverages overall. Can it be done?

The Public Benefit Company launched its kids drink (for ages 6+) in May 2023; and today at Expo West announces the launch of PLEZi FiZZ: a carbonated fruit drink launching this spring in three flavors and targeting an older demographic of tweens and teens.

'Ace the taste test' - without being sweet

The premise of the company’s mission is simple: kids are consuming far too much added sugar. US children consume around 66g of sugar a day; whereas the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 25g (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for children two years and older.

And sugar-sweetened beverages and the leading source of added sugar for kids, which is why PLEZi Nutrition has started with a focus on beverages.

But the company’s mission goes further than that: it wants to create products that ‘ace the taste test’, contain a lower sugar content – but also a lower level of sweetness. And that’s where PLEZi believes it can really make a difference: if it can shape kids’ palates to expect less sugar when they’re young, that will carry on throughout their lives.

“We’re aiming to help raise a healthier generation and drive change throughout the food and beverage industry to do better by our kids," explained PLEZi Nutrition Co-Chair Sam Kass.

"We have a massive sugar problem, but we also have a massive sweetness problem. When young people are used to sweet tastes, it shapes what they like to eat and drink.”

While the beverage industry has done a lot of work in reducing sugar content, what it hasn’t​ done is address the fundamental sweetness level.

“In beverages specifically, there are a lot of no- and low-calorie drinks, but many tend to rely on being incredibly sweet as their core strategy, and that is shaping kids’ palates," said Kass.

PLEZi Fizz Strawberry Lemonade

"What we are aiming to do is not only bring down the sugar, but also bring down the sweetness and focus on great flavor so that we can compete. We hope to help reduce kids’ desire for overly sweet drinks and ultimately move kids away from soda and other sugary drinks.”

PLEZi FiZZ contains 70% less sugar than the average leading soft drink (coming in at 8g per 8.4oz compares to 28g).

It has no added sugar: but does use stevia as a natural sweetener (Kass acknowledges the taste challenges with stevia, but is confident in the taste of the resulting product).

The drink also contains 2g fiber and nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C.

The drink launches in three flavors: Cherry Limeade, Lemon Lime Squeeze and Strawberry Lemonade. It will be available for purchase across Amazon and select convenience stores and club stores in the US this Spring.

Children's health was a focus for former First Lady Michelle Obama during her time in the White House. 

She initiated 'Let's Move!', a program to help kids and families lead healthier lives: working to provide more nutritious food in schools and bringing healthy and affordable food into underserved communities, plant vegetable gardens across America and provide new opportunities for kids to be more active. She also started a garden on the White House South Lawn, with schoolchildren invited to help plant and harvest the garden.

“While I’m proud of all we accomplished during those years at the White House, I’ve also learned that to truly push the food and beverage industry to do better by our kids, you have to work from the inside," she said.

"I’m thrilled to build on those efforts through PLEZi Nutrition as we work to drive change throughout the entire food and beverage industry.”

First year in business: New packaging formats

PLEZi launched its kids drink in a test phase in May 2023​, with four flavors (tropical punch, orange smash, apple splash, and blueberry blast).

Originally launching in bottles, the company is now expanding its packaging line-up to include cartons.

“After listening to our consumers' wants and needs, we adjusted to a 6.75oz Tetra Pak,” said Kass. “These will be available in Target, Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, HEB, and Sprouts by May and will replace the 8 oz bottles where they are currently sold. The original 8 oz bottles will still be available and targeting single serve occasions to drive sampling and trial of PLEZi at select retailers including Murphy USA, AMPM, Sprouts, and on Amazon.”

Furthermore, it’s also putting its focus on where a lot of juice is consumed – at home.

“We’re launching a PLEZi 64 oz multi-serve: This larger format of the original fruit drink is intended for family consumption at home, which is the largest segment of the kids’ juice category and the largest contributor of sugar consumption made up primarily of 100% juices. Launching initially with Island Punch and Apple Splash flavors, the multiserve product will be coming to national retailers soon.”

What PLEZi is not trying to do is create an alternative to the best drinks for children - essentially water and milk - but accept the reality that drinks need to be be competitive, taste-wise, if they're to make mass change. 

To that end - and guided by a Kitchen Cabinet advisory group of experts in nutrition, public health, and parenting - PLEZi Nutrition is committed to serving as an educational platform, including through the company’s 'Nothing to Sugarcoat'​ site.

The goal is to engage with parents, caregivers, and families about their questions when it comes to kids’ health and to be transparent about what’s best for kids, like drinking water and eating whole fruits and vegetables, because PLEZi Nutrition’s products are not intended to replace water and whole foods.

"We know that water or milk is always the best option for kids, and we’ll continue to recommend that first, but kids who are used to drinking soda daily often have a hard time making the switch.

"We in the public health community have been pleading for decades to drink water and frankly that alone isn’t working. It is clear to me that families need better options if we are going to shift the health of the country, especially for our kids."

- Dr. Shale Wong, MD, MSPH, Pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics and Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Member of the PLEZi Nutrition Kitchen Cabinet.

Beverages have been the starting point for PLEZi because of their sugar content: but the brand plans to expand beyond these into other areas where they can deliver less sugary and less sweet products for kids - as well as with a nutrition boost.

Trying to adjust kids' palates is a big ask: particularly in a market where soda-level sweetness has been the norm for so long. And Kass acknowledges the challenges: 'That question is at the core of why this company exists!'

But it's not unrealistic. Beverage manufacturers have, after all, long adjusted the sweetness of their beverages to different markets for local tastes​, although admittedly the US is usually at the top end of sweetness scales.

Kass says carving out what is essentially at odds with the status quo in the beverage industry remains the top challenge for the brand.

“We’re trying to create products that are better for you that can compete with the sugar-filled, overly sweet options on the market today,” he said. “It’s challenging, but we’re making progress. If it was easy, someone would have done it a long time ago.”

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