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Marketing tactics may trick you into believing store-bought juice is more nutritious than it really is.

February 22, 2017

A recent lawsuit against PepsiCo, owners of Naked Juice, brought to light a bit of truth about store-bought juices: they're stretching their "superfood" drinks by adding cheap, high-sugar fruit juices.

The lawsuit, which called out PepsiCo for marketing their products as "healthier" than they really are, focuses squarely on the label. In particular, the suit claims Naked labels their juices with "high-value" ingredients, when in fact the largest proportion of ingredients are cheaper and less nutritious.

What the Labels Say

Let's look at Naked's Blue Machine juice. In big letters at the bottom of the label, Naked touts that this drink has "No Sugar Added." The label also claims the juice is a "100% Juice Smoothie." Thanks to the the photo on the label, a consumer might assume they're drinking a juice beverage rich in blueberry and blackberries, but the label hides the truth: The juice's first ingredient is apple juice. That's followed by banana puree. Then you reach blueberry and blackberry purees. Ingredients are listed in order of prominence on the label, so that means the main ingredients for this juice aren't the fruits featured on the front of the bottle.

How about Naked's Green Machine? The label is certainly very green, with images of spinach, broccoli, kiwi, and green apples. You have to count down to the fifth ingredient before a "green" fruit or vegetable shows up. The first four ingredients include apple juice, mango puree, pineapple juice, and banana puree. The fifth is kiwi puree, and the sixth is spirulina.

Photo: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Naked certainly isn't the only guilty party. Evolution's Smooth Greens & Kale juice would seem like a green-veg heavy juice, but the first two ingredients are cucumber juice and pineapple juice. The Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost bottle boasts a beautiful photo of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, but the ingredient list reads more like an apple juice bottle: Apple puree from concentrate and apple juice from concentrate are first and second on the list.

Naked can get away with the "No Sugar Added" claim because, indeed, they do not add sugar in the form of cane sugar, honey, or high fructose corn syrup. But they do add high-sugar juices, like apple, grape, or pineapple juice, that up the total sugar number and provide little else in the way of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Likewise, other brands lean on fruits and vegetables that are indeed in the ingredient list for marketing purposes, but they're nowhere near the most prominent ingredients.

So Why the Cheap, High-Sugar Juices?

Anyone who has ever tried juicing knows just how expensive it is. A huge pile of pricey produce can turn into just a glass or two of juice. For companies to maintain the prices that bottled juices go for in the supermarkets, even when they clock in around $3 to $5 per drink, they must stretch their budget (and ingredients) by relying on cheaper fruits like apples or oranges.

These juices also do something else to the juice: dramatically increase calorie numbers. By law, calorie numbers are prominently displayed on the front of the bottles, but don't let the "health halo" of a juice bottle fool you. Some of these juices, especially ones with "boosters" like whey protein and soy protein isolate can tally up to well over 400 calories per bottle. For some people, that's an entire meal in one bottle. The majority of those calories are coming from the high-sugar, low-nutrition juices that are designed to "stretch" the more expensive juices in order to make a more profitable product.

What's Changing?

For their part, PepsiCo originally called the juicy lawsuit "baseless," and asserts that the Naked products' labels are not misleading. In the settlement, the brand still denies the allegations but will move forward with a number of label changes. These include using more accurate imagery on their labels and listing the drinks' ingredients in order of their prominence in the juice. Indeed, as of this week, the brand has updated many of the ingredients' lists online, as evidenced by an updated date that now appears with each product's nutrition label. Several other product changes will also be made to satisfy the terms of the lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest last fall.

The bottom line: Store-bought juices shouldn't be relied upon as a source of daily vitamins, minerals, and fiber. While they are convenient, they contain high numbers of sugar and calories. The ingredients are better quality than, for example, a soda, but their calorie numbers are often the same. Likewise, the sugar numbers are often equally high. Even though the grams of sugar are coming from fruit and not added sugar, a person watching their sugar intake should be wary of using a store-bought juice product as a healthier substitute for any other drink. You can control the amount of sugar in a juice drink by making your own at home. If that's not convenient, be sure to flip the bottle over and read the ingredients list. If a filler juice or other high-calorie, low-nutrition ingredients are in the first few spots, look for a healthier option.