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Juice: Lost in the Millennial Woods


Written by: Brian Sudano

If you're past a certain age, juice was likely the staple beverage of your family breakfast table growing up. With a perceived patina of health and great brands to choose from, juice in its many forms washed down bacon, eggs and pancakes for generations. Tropicana, Minute Maid, Mott's and Welch's are among some of the best known and loved brands in the world. Unfortunately, it's been some time since juice enjoyed the benefit of the doubt from consumers, especially from gatekeeper moms regulating their kids' calorie intake though sugar reduction.

Beverage Marketing Corp has been covering fruit beverage trends for many years via our fruit beverage market reports and other work on the topic, so we often get asked if mainstream juice will make a comeback or simply stay in a long-term decline such as other 20th century relics like CSDs, milk, domestic premium beer and more recently domestic premium light beer. Our view is that juice and juice drinks may be unfairly maligned, but right now it's tough to see a silver lining and we have very muted expectations.

At the core of the problem is that juice has become too easy a dog to kick for the health conscious. Today's consumer now benefits from much greater transparency in labeling, is more aware of calories and simply has more options to choose from, especially with the proliferation of New Age Beverages. The competition for share of stomach is fiercer than ever, and juice hasn't found the right way to protect its image. Consider that nearly half of infrequent juice drinkers think juice has too much sugar to be considered healthy. Whether or not that's true doesn't matter - the perception of high sugar content is too high a hurdle for many of today's consumers.

Somewhat surprisingly, we have also found that in many cases consumers simply do not understand the difference between 100% juice and lower-calorie juice products. That's a major disconnect and is generally uncommon in other beverage categories. The difference between low-fat milk and full-fat milk, light beer and premium beer and diet cola and regular cola is completely understood by nearly everyone. The fact that juice has been unable to make that distinction in the mind of the consumer speaks volumes.

Not surprisingly, overall industry numbers have been weak so far this century. Like CSDs and domestic beer, juice is still in hangover mode from the early 2000s when interest in the Atkins diet peaked. Atkins may no longer be a trendy diet, but it did permanently change how consumers view carbs, sugar especially. When we dig into our DrinkTell™ database numbers, we see nearly 15 years of structural decline in the category. The 100% juice segment peaked at 2.5 billion gallons in 2000 and juice drinks then peaked in 2004 at 1.8 billion gallons. Overall as a combined category, juice peaked in 2003 at 4.2 billion gallons and the industry has been in a nose dive since, landing at 3.0 billion gallons in 2017.

Not surprisingly, per person consumption has been in the tank. Going all the way back to 1994, juice per capita consumption was 14.8 gallons per person. Last year, consumption shrunk to 9.2 gallons per person at an annualized rate of decline of -2.1% since that 1994 high mark. We don't see the trends changing and expect juice consumption to slip to 8.6 gallons per person by 2022.

High-calorie beverages are simply off trend and 100% juice is way off target. When we look at the broadest measure of calorie content across liquid refreshment beverage (LRB), we see a category struggling to find a role. DrinkTell estimates the average calorie content for an 8-oz. LRB serving dropped from 50.7 calories in 2010 to 44.2 calories in 2017, a 13% reduction in seven years. This is due in great part to the growth and thus higher weighting of no-calorie bottled water within LRBs. In comparison, 100% juice averages 116 calories per serving, more than 2.5x the LRB average. This is behind only the whopping 138 calories per serving in RTD coffees.

What makes us concerned for the future is that juice appears to have barely a following among college kids. The elementary school kids of the 2000s became the high school kids of the first half of this decade - that's during the period when juice trends starting falling hard. These 'post-juice' kids are now college students and the category has, ahem, very little juice with them. The trend numbers are moving the wrong way.

In our recent BMC report, U.S. College Student Beverage Consumption and Attitudes, we took a deep dive into college student beverage consumption behavior and found little reason to believe that this generation of new adults will bring juice back to growth. Nearly 41% of respondents consume one to three servings of juice/juice drinks per week, the highest percentage of any beverage. However, the calorie/carbs issue seems to be the principal reason why juice/juice drinks will never be as universal as bottled water. While nearly 41% of students are heavy users of bottled water (seven or more weekly servings), a tiny 4.2% of students are heavy fruit beverage consumers. What's more, that latter figure was down by nearly half from 8.0% in 2016 from 2015.

As much as we miss our orange juice at breakfast, the world is moving away from that morning tradition.

For more information on fruit beverages, new age beverage trends and millennial consumer impact on the beverage industry:

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