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.

  • Suzanne


    Based on my research, eating a high carbohydrate diet (simple and/or complex) will cause someone with genetic markers to develop Diabetes at a younger age, particularly coupled with a sedentary lifestyle and overweight. I think it’s a highly contested issue that possession of genetic markers inexorably leads to the development of DM, if rigorous diet and exercise interventions are followed.

    I think it’s quite possible that my reactivity to fruit and complex carbs in increasing my blood glucose reflects my early diagnosis and my diminished insulin sensitivity. If you’ve had DM2 for a shorter period, and actively worked hard to minimize glucose spikes, your insulin sensitivity is going to be better than mine. I ignored the disease for close to ten years before deciding that I was going to take charge of its progress.

    It’s harmful to suggest that all diabetics can follow the traditional ADA plate method and have servings each meal of fruit, whole grains, and starchy vegetables and successfully maintain healthy blood glucose levels. I would assert that the widely communicated ADA plate method sets up some Diabetics for failure.

    I have luckily found a community of people who learned through trial and error that they cannot control their glucose levels by buying into the myth that complex carbs are healthy and necessary for everyone. Before changing my eating habits, my strict vegetarian diet emphasizing low glycemic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, non-animal proteins and healthy fats like EVOO, was an EPIC FAIL.. My interventions weren’t sufficient to keep that A1C from climbing with each lab. I’ve stopped eating grains and fruit, and focus on animal and seafood products and leafy vegetables, and I can now control my bg close to the levels of a non-diabetic, and without medication. Exercise helps, but my foundation is nutrition.

    Given the choice between diabetic complications and “healthy” carbohydrates, I choose my health.

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  • Amanda de la garza

    Marion, you might also be interested to know that Fibersol-2, an ingredient listed in all of the Tropolis products you mentioned, is produced by a “joint venture” of Archer Daniels Midland (one of the worst offenders of the Big Ag conglomerates) and the Matsutani Chemical Industry Corporation (enough said). I was banned from Dr. Mercola’s online community for pointing this out. His steadfast encouragement to withdraw our consumer support from Big Ag products and to avoid “Frankenfoods” apparently does not apply when they are used in his own products, such as the expensive Miracle Whey. Second ingredient? Fibersol maltodextrin. Thanks for all your hard work and open discussion!