by Marion Nestle
Jan 5 2011

Pepsi’s answer to “eat natural”: snackify beverages and drinkify snacks

Over the holidays, Pepsi announced two changes to its products.

“All Natural” Frito-Lay: First, the company announced that half its Frito-Lay chips would now be made with “all natural” ingredients.

“Natural,” you may recall, has no regulatory meaning.  Companies pretty much get to define for themselves what the word means, provided what they say is “truthful and not misleading.”

By “natural,” Pepsi means removing MSG, artificial colors, and other chemical additives from some—but by no means all—chips and other snacks.  This is a good start, but Cheetos and Doritos?  Not a chance.

As to worries that the word “natural” is a calorie distractor and might encourage overeating, a Pepsi spokesperson said: “It’s meant to say: made with natural ingredients….It’s not meant to say: eat more.”  Really?  I’m not convinced.

Tropolis Squeezable Fruit: Next, Pepsi announced the latest innovation in kids’ products: Tropolis pouches of squeezable fruit.

I learned about Tropolis from a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, Valerie Bauerlein, who forwarded Pepsi’s press release:

Each fun-flavored 3.17 fl oz (90g) pouch provides a smooth blend of real squeezable fruit, is a good source of fiber, and offers 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C – all for less than 100 calories.

Tropicana Tropolis is made with no added sugars, artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup; and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

“Fun-flavored” is a euphemism for sugar.  The press release explains what’s not in the product.  So, what does it contain? It took some doing to find out, but it arrived eventually along with some further background information from Pepsi:

The issue is kids aren’t getting enough fruit, so Tropicana Tropolis is trying to help solve that problem in a fun, nutritious way…Studies show that families are not getting enough fruit and vegetables in their diets, and the health experts we talked to (registered dietitians and pediatricians) when developing Tropolis also raised this issue.

As you might imagine, I was not one of the experts they talked to.  Here are the ingredients:

  • Grape World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), grape juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  • Cherry World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), apple juice concentrate, cherry juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
  • Apple World: Apple puree, filtered water, banana puree concentrate, fibersol-2 fiber (maltodextrin), apple juice concentrate, lemon juice concentrate, natural flavor and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Translation: “Juice concentrates” is another euphemism for sugar.  You don’t believe me?  See the list of sugar euphemisms in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines (Table 14).

My translation: this is watery apple and banana sauce, artificially thickened, sweetened with fruit sugars, flavored with additives, and with added vitamin C.

As Valerie Bauerlein’s Wall Street Journal account explains,  this product is about expanding Pepsi’s profits in the “better-for-you” category as captured in a quotation that is sure to become a classic.

Ms. Nooyi [Pepsi’s CEO] has said she wants to build the nutrition business to $30 billion from $10 billion by 2020.…We see the emerging opportunity to ‘snackify’ beverages and ‘drinkify’ snacks as the next frontier in food and beverage convenience,” Ms. Nooyi said.

I ’m also quoted in her article (I did the interview while stranded in Miami trying to get back to snowbound New York):

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, said that the fruit concentrates are simply sugar. “They start out with real food, so let’s give them credit for applesauce and mashed-up bananas,” but “the rest of it is sugar,” she said. “Kids would be better off eating an apple or a banana.”

PepsiCo said Tropolis should get kids to eat more fruit, which is what’s most important.

Tropolis raises my favorite food philosophy question: Is a “better-for-you” product necessarily a good choice?  Is this a good way to get kids to eat more fruit?

You decide.

  • Anthro

    Is this a good way to get kids to eat more fruit?

    Yes! In the same way that giving them chocolate milk is (one) way to get them to drink milk.

    But wouldn’t it be better to raise children in a way that teaches them about real food and the importance of good nutrition in their lives? And wouldn’t the best way to do this be to demonstrate this in everyday life by preparing your own food (and snacks). And as far as making things more “convenient”, how is it easier to offer one of these (messy, I should think) fruit pops than a banana or apple?

    This brings us back to advertising to children. Who would bother with these products if they were not heavily marketed? Who gains, ultimately, from the sale of these products? Do children become healthier or better nourished? Or do shareholders get bigger dividend checks?

  • Brandon

    Yes the best choice is for people to eat the real thing. But if something isn’t going to, Tropolis is one of the best out there (unfortunately). If we are all about taking steps to a healthy lifestyle, its a good step from regular, nothing but sugar fruit snacks.

    I’m excited for one of these type of products to not use boring old apple and banana purees though. Its really just glorified applesauce.

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  • http://www.thetableofpromise.blogspot.com The Table of Promise

    I see two things happening here that I feel that you should point out. You have started to address it, but I think these points need to be driven home.

    First, I think the average American will see nothing wrong with this product because technically the product has no added sugar. Sugar is not even an ingredient. But ask that same American what a straight up container of frozen orange juice concentrate tastes like and they will say “too sweet and syrupy”. You are right that fruit juice concentrate should be a euphimism for sugar. Personally I am not a big fan of baby food, and that is just what this sounds like. My feeling is that this product will not captivate it’s intended market.

    The second point is that it is too bad that parents need to be told that a plain apple or banana is better for their child than this crummy overly concentrated baby food in a tube. If parents all knew and believed that whole fruits were far more important for their children’s diets than juice and purees then this product would not be anything to be concerned about. But the sad fact is that most parent’s don’t know this basic info. How do we change that??

    This product is worse because of the education nutrition poor culture into which it has been born.

  • Subvert

    @ Table of Promise – nice point!

    The use of concentrated fruit juices is just a way to get around adding “Sugar” to you ingredient declaration. The fact that there is some processed, condensed remnant of ‘fruit juice’ used in the product is just a ploy to associate something that is highly processed with a real piece of fruit.

    Products like these aim to handicap consumers into a state of dependence on processed food, while spinning a message of heath and convenience.

  • http://wandsci.blogspot.com Cloud

    See, this is exactly what I was afraid would start happening when all of the parenting sites got all up in arms about HFCS. Companies are marketing to parents and trumpeting “HFCS free” as a codeword for healthy. That is a real shame, because I don’t think this sort of marketing is going to lead to healthier choices.

    Would I actually use this product? I don’t know. Probably not, because I can get plenty of apples and bananas into my kids in other ways without the juice concentrates. But when real life hits my ideals about food, etc., sometimes the result isn’t what I would have predicted before I had actual kids to deal with. I’ve got one kid who loves applesauce (and I buy the unsweetened kind whose ingredients are literally “apples and water”) but won’t eat a real apple. She’s only 3.5, so I have hope for her yet, but I still have to feed her right now. She loves dried fruit (again, even when we get the kind that is just fruit, no extra sugar), but is so-so on eating regular fruits. Some she’ll eat, some she won’t. She ate her baby food fruit purees until she was over 2, because that way I could get a variety of fruits in her. (@The Table of Promise- read the labels on baby food fruits: they really are just fruit + water in most cases. I don’t buy the kind that are sold as “desserts” and have sugar added.)

    The only “real” fruit her baby sister will eat so far is strawberries, and those are out of season even here in SoCal. Everything else gets tossed directly to the ground. And yes, we keep trying. Of course, she’s only 15 months old, so it is early. But the thing is, I have to send her to day care with a snack she can feed to herself every day. The center provides a cracker-type snack in the afternoon, so I want to send fruit. So… you tell me: what do I send? So far, I’ve been buying expensive, imported strawberries and just dealing with the enviro-guilt associated with that. But this exact same dilemma is what got us started on dried fruit with her older sister.

    Parents don’t always buy this sorts of things out of ignorance. Sometimes, we’re just trying to find the best compromise we can between how we really want to feed our kids and the constraints of our real lives.

  • Suzanne

    I’ve got a radical idea for you. Fruit is not necessary for nutrients; vegetables will do the job nicely. Reliance on fruit just adds to sugar cravings throughout the life cycle.

  • Rick

    I haven’t seen such misinformed and underinformed comments in quite some time. These are not steps in the right direction.

    Suzanne definitely made a good point.

  • that_girl

    Suzanne, WHY should anyone give up fruit? It’s delicious and healthy. Not everyone likes a lot of vegetables, and kids have a natural sweet tooth and aversion to bitter tastes, which they can taste more strongly than adults.

  • http://mediterraneandiet.tv edSanDiego

    This morning investors dumped PepsiCo shares as Pepsi’s CEO, Ms. Nooyi, announced PepsiCo was going into the fruit and vegetable business.

    By the afternoon, Pepsi released a corrected press statement saying they meant they were going into the sugar with a little added fruit, made from pulp, and added vitamins business. PepsiCo shares rebounded and ended the day on an all time high.

    Normal service was soon restored.

  • Laura

    Reading these messages, I assume that the posters and their children are perfect nutrition angels, always happy with a humble apple or banana as a snack, never seeking out food that is different, novel, or (heavens forbid) FUN. Well, apparently my children are a different species than yours. Nine times out of ten I will give them the humble apple or banana, but I’m actually looking forward to trying this product as an occasional TREAT for them, which all children should have. Because my children are educated about nutrition, they will recognize this item as a treat and not expect it every day. They also will know without me telling them that this is nutritionally inferior to fresh fruit.
    I think that despite the added sugar disguised as fruit juice concentrate, this is not the worst move Pepsi could make, and it’s certainly a better choice than the ‘fruit’ snack pouches that so many parents put in lunchboxes.

  • Suzanne

    @that_girl

    The sweetness of fruit makes it easy to overeat which can lead to excess glucose in the blood and eventual insulin resistance from an increasingly less effective Pancreas working to process excess blood glucose via insulin secretion. It’s not healthy for everyone – as a Type II Diabetic, eating raw fruit causes blood sugar spikes the same way a teaspoon of sugar might. It’s really a matter of individual biochemistry.

    I loved vegetables as a young child. Given my family’s history, I have every intention of modeling eating habits to my children that ideally will reduce their likelihood of developing Diabetes.

    I look at the big picture – fruit simply adds more glucose to the already carbohydrate-saturated SAD. The beneficial fiber and vitamins found in fruit can be obtained from vegetables.Glucose is a major contributor to becoming overweight which increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses. Not everyone eats the SAD, and I think for them, modest fruit intake is probably fine. I didn’t clue in until it was already too late.

  • Pete

    I agree with Suzanne – fruit is not necessary. It can be enjoyable, but you don’t NEED it. The biggest problem I see with fruit is that people gorge on it when they decide to “be healthy”. They start downing bananas and strawberries like they are calorie free. What’s worse is they then gravitate towards processed fruit like fruit cups and the like. I’ve seen people eating handfuls of raisins like they were nothing. Its like eating a handful of sugar!

    Fruit is OKAY if you know how to eat it in moderation.

    As for this other stuff… anything that teaches kids that food comes from a box or squeezable tube is a bad idea. There is no reason REAL food can’t be FUN. My little guy loves fruit (and pickles now for some strange reason). But he thinks a banana is the most fun thing ever. First its a phone, then its an elephant trunk, then hid dinosaur wants to eat it, then he finally peels it and acts like a monkey – seriously, I’ve never seen someone get so much out of a banana.

    We need to stop catering to “kids tastes”. They are imagined (mostly because I think parents try to relive their youth through their kids and enjoy the sweets vicariously). If you don’t give kids chicken fingers and french fires to begin with then why would they want it ever. It kills me every time we go to a restaurant and are offered these menu items “for kids” (hot dogs too). Like kids couldn’t possibly want a piece of fish or something thats not fried. There is actually a new organic shop by me and they too had this sill chicken finger kids menu. So I spoke to the owner, explained to him my position and offered to rewrite his menu (I’m a copywriter). He agreed, said “I never thought of it that way” and his menu has since been rewritten.

  • Joseph Docu

    Simple recipe for kids food: if a corporation put its name on it, it’s not food and should not be fed to your children.

    Amazing how simple life is, isn’t it.

  • Greg Stern

    Regarding the question Dr. Nestle ended with: “Is a “better-for-you” product necessarily a good choice? Is this a good way to get kids to eat more fruit?”

    Seems to me that there are two pieces of information needed: 1) the actual nutritional content, including calory density compared to vitamin, mineral, and fiber content, and even if nowhere close to being as good for children as real fruit and vegetables, 2) does the product really lead to increased unprocessed fruit and vegetable intake.

    “PepsiCo said Tropolis should get kids to eat more fruit, which is what’s most important.” The operative word is “should”. Doesn’t mean it “will”. If evidence shows that it leads to reduced intake of unprocessed fruit and vegetables, then they “shouldn’t” be promoting it as a healthy alternative to the candy it appears to be.

  • Renee

    Really, the product sounds kind of disgusting.

    I would be surprised if it led to an increase in the amount of real fruit eaten by kids. How will kids learn that real fruit is good by eating something out of a package? This reminds me of the Jamie Oliver video, where the 5-year olds couldn’t identify common fruits and vegetables because they’d never seen them as a whole food.

  • http://www.mymiracleoflifenetwork.com Timothy Smith

    My question is this…HOW?
    How is this allowed to happen? Scratch that we know how it happens?
    And I totally agree with the comment that kids don’t even know what whole food looks like anymore.
    Have you ever seen a donut tree? Me either but they tell you its whats for breakfast just like PepsiCo tells you the “stuff” they call fruit is real.
    Call me weird but if it does not look like a fruit or a whole food why would we even consider eating it.
    No wonder we are the sickest nation on earth, and I know it can’t have anything to do with the Crap..oops I mean stuff, or do I mean real “fake” food.
    But it all boils down to..the choice is yours and yours alone of what goes into the “temple” your beautiful body.
    Just my 2 cents.

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  • http://www.mbmsante.com Madeleine

    I, personnally, rarely buy any packaged snacks, and after a while the kids do not want them, not even for camping. They much prefer the real fruts.

    Thanks for the information, it is appreciated for I do not have the time to research as much as I would like. Keep up the good work.

  • Jesse

    Concerning the comments about removing fruit from diet in favor of vegetables, I do not agree. I think fruit leads to the success of a healthy diet, especially for anyone trying to leave the SAD. I crave fruit more than I crave cakes and cookies and sodas, and so I rarely purchase the latter. There are so many varieties of flavor and texture in the fruit world that nothing in processed foods can match. I regularly incorporate fruit into my diet and also enjoy a variety of vegetables, nuts, grains and dairy, and I eat when hungry and maintain stable body weight on too little exercise (yeah, need to improve that part – then I can eat more fruit!). I am attempting to shift more of my diet to the vegetable world, though, as I realize the nutritional value of vegetables.

  • Jesse

    But I do agree that this Pepsi product is bad news, since it will not be marketed as a dessert or sugar drink but as a healthy food.

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  • glen

    I note that Penny Arcade has been mentioned above as having a “great commentary” about the new product.

    For those who wonder what that commentary is;

    http://art.penny-arcade.com/photos/1148982942_9gK6P-XL.jpg

    The link will give you a definite point of view on Pepsi’s generosity in helping children eat more fruit!

  • Roxanne Rieske

    Ugh. I would never buy this product, nor would I ever feed it to a child. If your kid needs his banana pureed, mash it with a fork. It’ll probably be 10 times cheaper than this product and takes about 5 seconds.

    And poo-poo to Suzanne for poo-pooing on fruit. A ripe piece of fruit is the perfect dessert. And there are plenty of low-sugar varieties of fruit to choose from for diabetics. My father has type II diabetes which he is currently reversing w/ a very strict vegetarian diet, and fruits like blueberries, raspberries, apples, and citrus fruit are a regular part of his diet. Not to mention fruit adds a welcome contrast and variety to a diet that is chock full of whole grains and vegetables. If all you eat is veggies, trust me, you’ll get sick of them fast. Your pallet gets really tired.

    I won’t be giving up my summer ripe fruit any time soon, thanks.

    And right now it is citrus season, when I become a certified Texas Red Grapefruit addict.

  • Kim

    Suzanne, I’m also a type 2 diabetic but my experience with blood glucose levels after eating fruit vs. eating table sugar are far different from yours. I’m careful to follow the portions recommended by the ADA and include 2 or 3 portions of fresh whole fruit per day in my eating plan. I find this helps me to avoid the urge to eat sweets. That’s the best reason I can think of for a diabetic to eat fruit.

    I also have the impression that you think that eating a high sugar diet leads to type 2 diabetes. That’s a common misconception. What it does do, however, is lead to earlier development of the disease if a person has one of the genetic markers for diabetes. The key is that you must have the genetic predisposition or you won’t develop diabetes no matter how much sugar you eat or how fat you get. If you do have a genetic marker for diabetes, you will eventually develop the disease even if you remain thin, eat a low sugar diet, and maintain an active lifestyle. Not all type 2 diabetics are fat but those people tend to develop the disease later in life and do not tend to have as severe a case.

    The problem caused by the American diet is that it’s making people overweight which causes them to develop insulin resistance at a far younger age than they otherwise would have and that increases the risk of complications. The longer you live with the disease, the longer you’re at risk for developing serious complications.

  • http://www.makingsenseofthings.info jsr

    Yet again an excellent post! I think you do a pretty good job at deciphering the labels :-) In the same vein, my partner and I have recently wrote a post in which we we wondering why is Coca-cola considered safer to drink than raw milk… (http://makingsenseofthings.info/2011/01/cocacola-safer-than-raw-milk/)

    We’d love to have your say on this :-)

    jsr

  • http://www.zomppa.com Belinda @zomppa

    An excellent post and fascinating discussion. It is just more evidence of how easy it is to appropriate language. “Better for you food” should be the first indication that something’s off. Better for you…than eating oatmeal or better for you than smoking nicotine? The words “real,” “natural” to me have all been so warped that it’s hard to trust that anymore, so I’ve started calling food I want frank food – it can’t be adulterated by definition! Thanks for keeping us up on the lookout.

  • Audrey

    Hi Marion,

    What are your thoughts on Naked and Odwalla juices and smoothies? I know I’d be better off eating a piece of fruit, but curious if these products (now Pespsi and Coca-Cola owned) are just as “natural” as Tropolis.

    Thanks!

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  • T

    My favorite sugar “substitute” in ingredient lists lately is “evaporated cane juice.” Umm… you mean cane sugar?