In the early decades of Independence, Indian consumers were made to believe that the only way to quench summer thirst is to drink carbonated aerated water — cola, orange or lemon flavours. Pepsi and Coke led the way to create a vast network of ice boxes at retail to cool and serve the bottles to thirsty consumers. However, in recent years, with the onset of lifestyle diseases and obesity, Indian consumers are slowly learning to avoid bottled aerated drinks as they contain only water, sugar and carbon dioxide to give the fizz and the flavours are not natural but artificial. The pendulum began to swing back in favour of wholesome fruit based natural drinks some summers back as sale of fruit juices and drinks began to increase at retail. In summer months, many households prefer to serve nimbu pani, lassi or coconut water. Where possible they prefer fresh fruit juices mostly in season.
Consumption of fresh fruit juices like orange, apple and lemon take time and labour to prepare at home in season and need to be consumed quickly before fermenting. In off-season, it is not possible to consume. The best substitutes are the packaged fruit juices and drinks. Each brand available in the market this season claims to be the best! Are these claims correct? Consumer Voice, a 37-year-old consumer organisation based in Delhi, has been verifying brand claims by testing the brands in NABL accredited labs and comparing test results to guide consumers to real quality. MNCs like Coke and Pepsi are also present in this market to compete with homegrown brands.
Consumer Voice selected nine brands from the open markets and subjected them to lab testing. As per label declarations, only three mixed fruit juice brands -- Real Activ (100 per cent) by Dabur, Tropicana (100 per cent) by Pepsi and 24 Mantra Organic (100 per cent) by Sresta Natural (shown in the table) -- are pure juices (100 per cent), which are not allowed to add sugar. Six of the nine brands, including Real Fruit Power by Dabur, Minute Maid by Coke and Tropicana by Pepsi, in this list contain added sugar which are described as fruit beverages or fruit drinks (not juices). Some may include more sugar than fruit content. There is also a limit to add permitted colour to fruit juices and ready-to-serve fruit beverages and fruit drinks. Consumer Voice tested the key parameters.
Lab tests: Four broad sets of lab tests computing a total score of 100 were performed on these samples. First, five different physiochemical tests scored for soluble solids, natural sugar, acidity, density and synthetic colour with 32 per cent weight. Second, five different nutritional tests were energy content, carbohydrates, ascorbic acid, sodium and iron accounting for 17 per cent. Third, sensory tests by a panel of consumers accounted for 20 per cent and the remaining were safety tests with absence of heavy metals. Pesticide residues and microbiological tests had a weight of 20 per cent. Rest was 7 per cent for content and package marking accuracy and 4 per cent for preservatives used.
The lab test readings were assigned scores on each of these criteria to each brand. Among 100 per cent fruit juices brands, Real Activ by Dabur scored 89 out of 100 as compared to Tropicana (83) and 24 Mantra Organic (82). Here Real Activ by Dabur is clearly the winner in best overall quality. Among the fruit drinks, Real Fruit Power by Dabur Scored 90 out of 100 closely followed by Patanjali (89), Minute Maid by Coke and Tasty Treat at 86 each and Tropicana by Pepsico (85). Domestic brands have clearly outclassed MNC brands in quality as Dabur is well ahead of Pepsi and Coke brands.
(Prof Sri Ram Khanna is managing editor of Consumer Voice and former Dean and head of Commerce, Delhi School of Economics)