Sugar reduction continues to be a challenge for the F&B industry as the number of consumers with food related diseases such as diabetes and obesity continues to grow. Sugar in beverages, including natural fruit juices, is contributing massively to this challenge.
Governments in a number of countries are looking to introduce ‘sugar taxes’ to tackle it. Traditional methods of sugar reduction include replacing it with sweeteners or other natural sugars, but these come with their own challenges and don’t completely solve the problem.
Better Juice – the winner of the Most Innovative Technology or Service Supporting F&B category of the Startup Innovation Challenge 2018 – has developed an exciting technology to reduce sugar in natural fruit juice whilst adding beneficial nutrients, such as dietary fibres. We caught up with Eran Blachinsky, CEO of Better Juice, to learn more.
Can you pitch your innovation to us in three sentences?
"Fruit and fruit juices were the symbol of health as they contain vitamins and minerals that are crucial for our health. Unfortunately, all these benefits are masked by very high sugar content, hence physicians recommend reducing juice consumption. We at Better Juice have developed a natural technology for reducing sugar content from juice by bio-converting bad sugars to dietary fibres and other nutrients without altering juice benefits. This makes a healthier, better juice."
What sparked the initial idea behind Better Juice?
"My father is diabetic and sugar reduction is of great concern in my family. While I worked as a VP at a fruit processing company I found that the jam that is approved by the diabetics association contains vast amount of sugar that comes from the fruits in the jam. I realized that diabetics and overweight people can’t consume fruits products due to the innate sugar content. That notion motivated me to find a solution for reducing the sugars from fruit juices."
What traditionally have been the main challenges of reducing sugar in beverages?
"Traditionally the challenges of sugar reduction in synthetic beverages were finding the best sugar replacers: the sweetener with the least aftertaste. In the synthetic beverage industry it is easy to reduce sugar as you can reduce it from the recipe and replace it with a sweetener. This can’t be done with juices where sugar cannot be replaced in the recipe. As a natural produce juice contains sugar. There is no traditional sugar reduction from juice beside maybe wine and cider production."
The method you use is bio-conversion. What effect is this likely to have on the finished product in terms of taste, smell etc.?
"The bio-conversion treats only the sugar in the juice. The enzymatic activity is very specific. As a result, the sweetness is reduced but other characteristics like taste, flavors and smell are not changed. The level of reduced sweetness is not the same as the level of sugar reduction as the bio-converted sugars have sweetness properties with less calories. Reducing 30% of the sugars results in a very tasty product as juice can be too sweet for most of us and this reduction improves it. Reducing more sugars reveals and enhances other flavors that are masked by the sweetness like sourness and bitterness but when restoring back the sweetness with a sweetener the original taste is restored."
How does this method differ from traditional fermentation methods?
"Fermentation is an ancient technology used by our ancestors for producing wine, beer, yogurt and more. The microorganisms consume the sugars and produce a secondary metabolite like alcohol, lactic acid and many other organic compounds that change the original raw materials, like grape juice to wine, milk to yogurt and so forth. In our process we used microorganisms that have gone through a treatment that block their fermentation capabilities thus producing nothing. The only activity left is the bio-conversion of sugars. Meaning there are no secondary metabolite, no addition nor reduction of any other component other than the sugars bio-conversion."
How do you plan to develop this technology in future?
"The core technology can be improved using fast evolutions techniques as we use non-GMO microorganisms and do not want to engineer the microorganisms. More than that, we will develop a process for honey, maple syrup and any other natural sugary product."
As a startup, what has been the biggest challenge in entering this market?
"The biggest challenge is convincing the juice producers that the regulatory obstacle of labeling our product is a marketing challenge, not a sale blocker. The population are looking for products that contain all the good in nature without the bad. People will buy it even though the label will not define the product as juice. Regulation has great responsibility for protecting us, the consumers, from dishonest 'juice' producers but it also knows that it must be evolved to adapt to the market needs. I believe that it is a matter of time until the regulation will change."
What does winning the Hi Europe Startup Innovation Challenge mean to you?
"From the first day of establishing the company I knew that our company has a technology that will revolutionize the juice industry for the benefit of us all. Winning the competition strengthen my self confidence that I, as the CEO, can get across the idea. Since than I receive many mails and linked in massages from juice and beverage and even chocolate producers asking for more information, looking for collaborations."