Real Juice? Check Label To Be Sure

May 15, 1991|By Charlyne Varkonyi

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.

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