Do you really know what you are buying when you reach for what you think is 100 percent pure orange or grapefruit juice?
Better look again. Things aren't always what they seem in the juice labeling biz. And for some shoppers words like "fresh," "natural" or "real" may lead them to the wrong purchase.
Twenty-five percent of the 400 grocery shoppers surveyed in Baltimore, Albany, N.Y., and Chicago who thought they were getting pure juice actually bought diluted juice beverages that were extended with water and sweeteners, according to a survey conducted for the Florida Department of Citrus by the Wirthlin Group.
Shoppers in the three cities were asked if they had bought a juice product and if they thought it contained 100 percent pure juice. Then they were shown photos of the front and back labels of juice and diluted juice products and they were asked which was more healthful and more nutrient packed.
The Florida Department of Citrus (FDC), which has developed a reputation for protecting the "pure" image of citrus products, considers labeling a "right to know" issue. It has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to require percentage of real juice disclosure on the front label of juice and diluted juice products. Results of the survey will be used in educational programs in the three cities.
"For the average consumer, it is difficult to look at the label and know exactly what's in the product," says Poonam Mittal, director of marketing research for the FDC.
"Right now you almost need to be a detective and be able to read between the lines to make an informed choice. . . . Often the product will have juice in the name, such as juice cocktail or juice drink, but nowhere on the label can you find out exactly how much juice is in it. Even if the product says it contains '100 percent real juice,' all that means is the juice in the product is real juice."
pTC The citrus industry is not alone in its complaints. Consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), are just as concerned.
"We are not surprised at all because manufacturers of diluted juice products make every effort in their manufacturing and labeling to imply that their products are 100 percent pure juice," says Bruce Silverglade, staff attorney for CSPI, which is based in Washington.
"Product labels are loaded with pictures of fruits and the names of products are deceptive. For example, DelMonte Pineapple and Orange Fruit Blends would indicate that the product is a blend of pineapple and orange juice, when in reality the product is 50 percent water."
The debate has been going on for more than a decade. Both the CSPI and the National Food Processors Association, a trade group, have petitioned the FDA to require percentage of juice labeling on juice and diluted juice products.
In fact, the FDA proposed percentage labeling requirements a few years ago, but implementation was stalled because lawmakers from Wisconsin and Massachusetts, the major cranberry-growing states, used their muscle on the Senate and House appropriations committees to bar any FDA funds from being spent on juice percentage regulations.
Ocean Spray, a national cooperative of cranberry growers, opposed these regulations because the juice drinks it makes are diluted with water and sweeteners, an action the company says it must take to make the sour cranberry juice palatable.
But recently, the regulatory winds have changed.
Earlier this month, the FDA seized thousands of cartons of Procter & Gamble's Citrus Hill "Fresh Choice" orange juice, calling the labeling "deceptive" because the juice was made from concentrate, not from freshly squeezed oranges. FDA's new Commissioner David Kessler said at the time he hoped the agency's action "will send a clear message that the FDA will not tolerate such violations of the law."
And last November, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, forcing FDA to take a stronger stand on the labeling issue. Consumer advocates lost their battle for disclosure on the front label, but the act requires disclosure on the back label along with a new requirement for nutritional breakdowns of the products. The proposed juice labeling regulations should be out within the next two months, says Chris Lecos, FDA spokesman. The law requires the proposals to be final by November 1992.
Even Ocean Spray has removed its opposition.
"Ocean Spray was opposed to requiring only the percentage of juice on the label," according to a company spokeswoman. "We wanted it on the back with the nutrition labeling so that percentage of juice will be only one element in the purchase decision. The products are fortified with vitamin C and should stack up well against the competition."
CSPI's Silverglade sees these regulatory actions as a positive sign for the consumer.
"I think the actions recently taken by the FDA on fresh orange juice labeling indicate that the federal watchdog is coming back on the beat," he says. "We are hopeful that the agency will aggressively enforce the laws on deceptive label claims."
But until then, it's still caveat emptor.
The hunt for 'real' fruit juice
Help is on the way, but it's still a juice-labeling jungle out there.
Until autumn 1992 when manufacturers are required to disclose the percentage of real juice on the label, you will have to become a detective to decode the Madison Avenue doubletalk.
The following clues come from the Florida Department of Citrus and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit consumer group:
*The words "100 percent pure" or "100 percent juice" on the label ensure that you are getting only pure fruit juice, not a diluted juice beverage that is pumped up with sweeteners and expanded with water.
*Products labeled "100 percent real juice" can be misleading. This term means only that the juice in the product is real, but it doesn't mean it contains 100 percent fruit juice.
*Although the percentage of juice does not have to be disclosed on the label, you can get an idea of how much juice is in the product by looking at the ingredient label. Manufacturers and food processors are required to list ingredients in descending order of their predominance. This means juice should be listed in the top of the ingredient list. If water or corn syrup is before the juice, you have a diluted juice product. The one exception: If the juice is made from concentrate, the water needs to be added to make a drinkable product.
*Beware of the "juicy" product names. If a product uses the words juice cocktail, juice punch, juice drink, juice sparkler, juice blend or beverage, it is a diluted juice product. These products may cost as much or more than 100 percent fruit juice but can contain as little as 10 percent juice. The rest of the volume is taken up with sweeteners, artificial colors and flavors and water.
*A juice ingredient may not be juice at all. Commonly, products such as fruit sparklers contain grape or apple juices that have been stripped or decharacterized. Some manufacturers remove all the colors and flavors from these juices, transforming them into the equivalent of sugar water. These so-called juices, according to the CSPI, can no longer be considered juice. But you will never know they have been stripped by reading the label.