Innocent Drinks CEO promises science-based strike against 'alarmist' junk juice headlines

Photo: Vizzzual.com/Flickr

Innocent Drinks CEO Douglas Lamont says the Coke-owned brand’s ‘biggest fear’ is that alarmist headlines claiming that 100% juices and smoothies are unhealthy due to sugar levels could affect government policy.

Speaking at the UK Soft Drinks Industry Conference in London yesterday – organized by Zenith International and the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), Lamont claimed success for Innocent in recent years despite a “slightly depressing” juice and smoothie category, with sales up 100% to £200m ($339m) since 2011.

Guardian article describes fruit juice as 'junk food'

Sugar levels and calories in soft drinks a hot topic of debate yesterday, and Lamont said Innocent is planning a scientific-inspired fight back to repair the damage negative, ill-informed headlines – for instance, Emine Saner’s January piece in The Guardian described fruit juice as ‘junk food’ – are causing 100% chilled juice.

“One of my biggest fears is that policy starts getting driven by alarmist headlines. And then I think we’re in very, very dangerous territory,” Lamont warned.

“Since 1999 we’ve been acting from first principles, in that our products comprise fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables are clearly good for you, we’ve had the five fruit and veg a day agenda from the UK government,” Lamont said.

“QED. Our products are clearly good for you. And that’s what I absolutely believe now,” Lamont added.

“What has changed is that a different perspective clearly comes in that says, ‘sugar is bad – these contain sugar, therefore they’re bad,” he explained.

'We need hard scientific evidence to back our claims' - Innocent

“What we haven’t had as an industry is hard scientific evidence to back the claim that ‘fruit is good for you’ to be able to say ‘Hold on a minute! Here are the nutritional benefits that these products give you,” Lamont said.

Innocent had been working on the science behind its beverages for the last 12 months to ensure it had its facts right, Lamont said. “So from a scientific perspective we can counter some things that have been said that we think are wrong, so that what we say has substance”.

What facts might underpin Innocent’s defence? “I’m very confident that the science is positive. We talk from the perspective of a net nutritional positive, taking into account the sugar that’s consumed naturally as part of the product versus the benefits that you get,” Lamont said.

“You have vitamins and minerals, but once you get on to antioxidants and phytonutrients you can look at our product and say, ‘OK, the range and quality of phytonutrients is there’,” he added.

Innocent’s CEO said the science was moving fast in terms of assessing the effects of, say, folate on the body.

“I think in 5-7 years time we will be judged well once science catches us up in terms of the ability to show the benefit of these nutrients, rather than just catching it under ‘well, fruit and veg are good for you’,” he said.

Media line on fiber in smoothies 'frankly wrong'

Turning to fiber, Lamont criticized “easy media headlines” saying that fibre in smoothies doesn’t count because it gets chopped up in a machine.

“That’s just frankly wrong,” Lamont said. “We’ve done the science now that we will publish shortly, showing that the fiber in our smoothies is in exactly the same state as if you’d chewed the fruit, and the biggest difference is the kind of fruit you’ve used. So we’ve got that evidence.

Discussing innovation, Lamont said areas of interest included breakfast beverages, adding that Innocent wasn’t afraid to release higher calorie products if they provided consumers with clear nutritional benefits.

Yesterday’s debate also saw BSDA director general, Gavin Partington, hit out at Action on Sugar campaign director Katharine Jenner, after doctors writing in a January report for her campaign group claimed sugar was the ‘new tobacco’ given spiralling UK rates of diabetes and obesity.

At the time, former UK health secretary Andrew Lansley criticized an “inaccurate analogy”, while other doctors – Dr Victoria Burley from Leeds University is one – criticized a reductionist attempt to influence nutrition policy, scant evidence for a causal link between sugar intake and obesity.

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