Fruit juice has been an emerging popular beverage category in China for some time now. Fruit has a healthy image, so fruit juice drinks are easy to market as good for you, at least better than sugary soda beverages. However, even up to the present day, most fruit juice drinks for sale in China have a 5% to 10% fruit juice content; the remainder being water and a mix of the usual ingredients.
Fruit juice drinks with a higher juice content are rare in China. It was therefore a surprise to note that Not From Concentrate (NFC) juice suddenly the appeared on the Chinese market a few years ago. Still, if fruit juice is healthy, NFC should be the healthiest of them all.
The founder of Lingdu Guofang, Sun Jun, who had started his career at Mengniu Dairy, and a manager of mineral water giant Nongfu Spring jointly announced China’s first NFC juice on Food & Beverage Innovation Forum (FBIF) 2017.
In 2018, the retail sales volume of fruit juice amounted to 14 billion litres. However, only 5% were 100% juice and only 1% of that volume was NFC. The NFC juice consumption per capita in China was only 16 ml. Although the market size at present is quite small, prospects for growth are high, as was indicated on FBIF 2020.
As for now, most NFC juice consumers are females, adults from 23 to 40 years old, living in the first-tier cities, and parents. White collar workers, gym-patrons and people who care about body management will be the next potential consumer groups. Getting enough vitamins, health, and flavour are the top three reasons mentioned to purchase NFC juice.
There some obstacles for NFC suppliers to overcome. Two thirds of Chinese consumers do not know the difference between 100% juice and NFC. Another problem is that NFC juice can be easily replaced. A 2020 Healthy Drink Research showed that a considerable part of consumers did not choose NFC juice because the can buy fruits and eat those directly. Fruits are cheap in China.
Popular beverages like bubble tea also pose a threat. Such teas with fruit juice are also marketed as ‘healthy’ and can be purchased to go. Fresh fruits can be squeezed at home. NFC is only for sale in bottles, so consumer who want to have a fruity drink while shopping, will buy a bubble tea. In June 2020, the famous tea drink brand Hey Tea also launched bottled NFC juice products in its own bubble tea shops.
Where to go
Worldwide, most fruit juice products are still single-flavoured, dominated by orange. But in China, consumers are more open to mixed flavours, or a mixed vegetable and fruit juice. Exotic fruits can be another considered.
The promotion of NFC juice shall be first focused, highlighting “NFC” on labels. Comments like “additive-free,” place of origin, health benefits, etc., are also important in China. It also very important to connect products with consumption contexts. For example, NFC juice could be the best choice for mothers in the supermarket when the kids want to buy beverages.
It would better to position NFC juice together with other health products, rather than sharing a shelf if regular fruit juice and fruity beverages.
In spite of the challenges, I am sure that NFC will grow in China in the coming years. Covid-19 has increased the already existing trend towards more healthy eating and drinking among Chinese consumers.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.