Jonesing for Juice [July 2015]
On a hot summer day, nothing beats some ice cream, frozen yogurt, or shave ice. For those who are health-conscious to a fault, a glass of cold, unsweetened, 100-percent fruit/vegetable juice may suffice. Unsweetened means no added sugar, corn syrup, or artificial sweetener—nada. Some of these products are refrigerated and some are non-refrigerated (shelf-stable). Some companies use little to no filler juice. Since fruits and vegetables are mostly water, some producers prefer to work with juice from concentrate—that is, juice that has its water content removed. This means enough water must be added back to reconstitute juice concentrate at bottling time. The FDA allows these products to be labeled 100-percent juice even when concentrate is used. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these companies.
Smart Juice (Pa., 2007 or 2008, smartjuice.us)
We never would have tried Smart Juice if not for Grocery Outlet (more on that later). This newbie juice company bottles all its products in Turkey, which may explain why some of the flavors are unusual for the American market.
- Tart Cherry
- Pomegranate-Tart Cherry
- Antioxidant Force
- Black Mulberry & Cranberry
- Apricot Peach
- Black Mulberry
- Pomegranate-Purple Carrot
All nine of these flavors are made from fruits that are certified organic. The company prides itself on not using juice from concentrate. It also uses no filler juice in most cases. For example, Pomegranate is pure pomegranate juice. Antioxidant Force is essentially a combination of Pomegranate-Tart Cherry, Pomegranate-Purple Carrot, and Black Mulberry with grape juice and blueberry juice added.
Shopping at Grocery Outlet is like what Forrest Gump said about a box of chocolates—you never know what’s available. A few months earlier we were intrigued to pick up a bottle of Black Mulberry & Cranberry to try. Black mulberry (not to be confused with black raspberry) juice must be really sweet because cranberry juice is tart and a little bitter. This combination—the only two juices used for this flavor—works so well that it’s a shame other U.S. companies don’t follow suit. It tastes like sweeter Lambrusco and just as refreshing. While Black Mulberry & Cranberry is smooth and clean-tasting, Apricot Peach is less sweet and slightly pulpy (it’s made with apricot puree, peach puree, and apple juice). If you want to make a Bellini and don’t have white peaches on hand, you might try substituting with this Apricot Peach juice.
As we publish this note, most Grocery Outlet stores have sold out the Smart Juice stock. If you hurry, the San Jose store at Capitol and McKee (across the street from Target and Mi Pueblo) still has at least two dozens each of Black Mulberry & Cranberry and Apricot Peach left. Wouldn’t it be nice if you can search inventory on Grocery Outlet’s site? Unfortunately, only such stores as Walmart and Target allow you to check product availability on their sites. Grocery Outlet is selling each 33.8 oz bottle for $3.99. Safeway is selling Smart Juice for $5.79. You’ll find these non-refrigerated products in the juice aisle.
August 2015 update: It looks like Grocery Outlet has received another shipment of Smart Juice (the same two flavors).
Tropicana Products (Ill., 1947, tropicana.com)
Now based in Illinois and owned by PepsiCo, Tropicana was founded in Florida—no surprise as Florida and California are the two biggest citrus-producing states. We never gave Tropicana much thought until we tried its Tropicana Farmstand product line.
- Tropical Green
- Apple Blend
- Strawberry Banana
- Pomegranate Blueberry
- Orange Pineapple
- Peach Mango
These six varieties are all made from juice concentrate. There’s a lot more “engineering” that’s gone into the creation of this product line. That’s because each flavor contains a long list of different juice concentrates. Since they all start with sweet potato juice, grape juice, and apple juice, the taste differences are not that dramatic. Our favorites are Pomegranate Blueberry and Strawberry Banana, the only two that happen to include beet juice in the mix. We also enjoy Tropical Green, which contains lime juice, kale juice, and spinach juice. You can skip Peach Mango. Tropicana Farmstand is often on sale for $2.49 for a 46 oz bottle. You’ll find these refrigerated juices in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets.
Knudsen & Sons (Calif., 1961, rwknudsenfamily.com)
As part of The Smucker Co., Knudsen certainly has the marketing budget to guarantee that its products are displayed at eye level. Like Smart Juice, Knudsen’s Just Juice product line uses no filler juice. And like Tropicana, Knudsen’s 11 flavors all use juices from concentrate except for Black Cherry.
- Just Aronia Berry
- Just Black Cherry
- Just Black Currant
- Just Blueberry
- Just Cranberry
- Just Pomegranate
- Just Tart Cherry
- Organic Just Concord Grape
- Organic Just Cranberry
- Organic Just Pomegranate
- Organic Just Tart Cherry
According to the company Web site, Concord Grape is also supposed to not use concentrate, but an in-store check tells a different story. So either the site is inaccurate or they have just changed the formula. The Just Juice line ranges in price from $5.39 to $7.99 for a 32 oz bottle at Safeway. Sometimes the lower-priced flavors may go on sale for $4.99. Look for these non-refrigerated products in the juice aisle.
The Bottom Line
Large supermarket chains also offer their own no sugar added, 100-percent juices. These private-label products are almost always cheaper than name brands—even when they are on sale. We’re not crazy about Trader Joe’s 100% Red Tart Cherry Juice. So what have we learned? The fruit is more important than the brand. When it comes to unsweetened, single- or two-fruit juice, choose one that’s consistently sweet like black mulberry.
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