Fruit juice is packed with vitamins and is a much-loved beverage globally. However, it also contains significant amounts of natural sugar making it inaccessible to those with dietary restrictions and a growing number of consumers who are reducing their sugar intake. An Israeli start-up has cracked the nut with an innovative solution that removes sugar from natural fruit juice without sacrificing taste or nutritional value. With support from GEA, this ground-breaking solution will become a commercial reality in 2022.

Fruit juice is a beverage enjoyed by people of all ages, across diverse cultures. That said, its relatively high sugar content puts it out of bounds for a growing number of consumers who are looking for low-sugar beverages. This includes diabetics, for whom sugary juices are simply not an option. Some governments are demanding less sugary beverages to combat rising obesity, instituting sugar thresholds, more transparent food labeling and even sugar taxes. During the global Covid-19 pandemic, interest in boosting immunity through vitamin-rich foods and beverages has skyrocketed.

Israeli food tech start-up, Better Juice, Ltd., was founded by a team of biochemists and microbiologists in 2017. The result of their work is a game-changing process that naturally reduces up to 80 percent of sugar content in fruit juice without compromising mouthfeel, taste or nutritional value, which means fewer or no additives are required.

Working with nature to produce natural juice with less sugar

At the beginning of 2021, GEA and Better Juice announced their plans to jointly develop a technology to reduce the sugar content of juice for the global beverage market. Microbiologists from Better Juice invented the biological or enzymatic process, while GEA designed and built the pilot-scale bioreactor for this patented solution.

The heart of the system is a bioreactor containing GMO-free immobilized microorganisms. The juice passes continuously through the vessel and, in the process, the microorganisms’ enzymes convert the sucrose, fructose and glucose into prebiotic, non-digestible molecules that are beneficial for the intestinal flora. The resulting liquid is 100 percent juice, but with much less sugar – anywhere from 30 to 80 percent, depending on the manufacturer’s requirements.

Low sugar orange juice

This substantial net reduction of sugar combined with the production of dietary fibers, which are important for promoting gut health, including digestion, is a coup for juice manufacturers and will provide consumers with healthier options without asking them to sacrifice on taste. Now patented in Europe, this innovation has self-affirmed FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, which opens the door to marketing the system to food and beverage manufacturers worldwide.

The cooperation between Better Juice and GEA brings a pioneering and game-changing solution to the market, which will allow producers to reduce sugar in juice without negatively affecting its nutritional value or taste.”– Franz-Josef Helms, Engineering Manager, Non-Alcoholic Beverages Center of Competence, GEA

Better Juice and GEA: a collaborative journey full of win-wins

Sweet victory: tasty and nutritious low-sugar fruit juice

To bring this exciting technology to market, Better Juice and GEA signed a joint venture to scale up the then patent-pending sugar reduction process. By collaborating with GEA, which has decades of juice processing experience, Better Juice could ensure the smooth integration of its enzymatic technology in existing juice production plants where producers are keen to expand their portfolio, while maintaining cost structures and output requirements. “Scaling-up is always a challenge for solutions developed in the lab,” says Gali Yarom, co-founder and co-CEO of Better Juice. “But GEA gives customers the assurance of being able to develop their own product variants and expand capacities later. We’re excited that in just a few months the first drinks will be on supermarket shelves across the USA – with less sugar than regular juice, but all of the goodness.”

GEA is constantly looking for opportunities to develop – or co-develop – solutions that support consumer demand for healthier foods and beverages. The collaboration with Better Juice is therefore an excellent fit for us and we’re proud we could bring this significant innovation to market together.”– Colm O’Gorman, Head of Sales & Offer Management, Non-Alcoholic Beverage Center of Competence, GEA

Utilizing the immobilized microorganisms provided by Better Juice, GEA will now integrate the pilot process unit, which has a capacity of 200 liters per hour, into the existing production line of a U.S. beverage manufacturer. The unit is designed with full parameter control and CIP functionality, guaranteeing a continuous, hygienic flow for the enzymatic sugar-reduction process. The first juice products will hit U.S. shelves in early 2022.

This exciting technology provides juice manufacturers globally with a cost-effective alternative to expand their product offering with the kinds of beverages that health-conscious consumers are looking for.