New fruit spreads are jamming the consumer market

October 06, 1991|By New York Times News Service F

Starting in the mid-80s, the classic jam formula of fruit and sugar was modified by some manufacturers to use fruit-juice concentrates instead of cane sugar as the sweetener. Fruit spreads, as these products are called, are now the fastest-growing part of the industry.

It began with Richard Worth, an entrepreneur whose 1970s counterculture food philosophy inspired him to try making preserves without using refined sugar. He had fled the urban world to acres of wild blueberries in the rural Canadian province of New Brunswick.

His initial attempts, with honey, met with some success. Then he made some of his Sorrell Ridge brand preserves, using fruit-juice concentrates as a sweetener.

"I knew I had hit on something with the fruit juice," he said. "But I didn't really know the food business."

In 1983, he sold Sorrell Ridge to Allied-Old English, a company in New Jersey that had been making diet products. His formula has been changed somewhat.

Using fruit-juice concentrates with their high amount of moisture as a sweetener, it is virtually impossible to achieve a product that is 65 percent sugar, in compliance with the federal code. Thus, these new products are called spreads or conserves in the United States.

At first, the labels for some of the fruit spreads trumpeted the fact that they were "all fruit" and contained "no sugar." Labels that say "no sugar added" must now indicate what sweetener is used. Some labels still say "unsweetened fruit-juice concentrate," meaning the fruit juice concentrate had no sugar added to it. But if you have ever tasted undiluted frozen apple juice concentrate, you know how sweet it actually is.

"The term 'unsweetened' is a marketing ploy that is not honest," said Daniel Cohen, co-owner of Clearbrook Farms in Fairfax, Ohio, whose fruit spreads are labeled to say "no sugar added, sweetened with fruit juice concentrate."

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