Going Beyond Orange Juice

Tropical juices could be the next big thing as the fatigue factor around the same old juices, growing affluence and an increasing emphasis on wellness sets in, says Emeterra founder Jacob Robbins.

Alfred Romann

Going Beyond Orange Juice

Juices made from underrepresented tropical fruits could, in a relatively short period of time, force a shift in a market long dominated by oranges and, to a smaller degree, the apple.
“Watch out for tropicals. They are going to be big and they are going to be exciting; just like you saw coconut water shocking the system or pomegranate juice being a wake-up call to many people,” says Jacob Robbins, a former Coca-Cola executive and founder of Emeterra, a Singapore-based company focused on agriculture processing assets.

“Tropicals could take a big slice of the market. There is a fatigue factor that sets in when having the same juice every morning,” says Robbins. “And some of these have actually been found to be nutritionally highly beneficial.”

Some help address cholesterol, heart health, slimming and more. More research is needed.
“Based on variety, based on novelty, based on nutritional and functional benefits, there is a big role for tropicals globally,” he says.

There are a number of trends that affect the global juice market. One is growing affluence and changing preferences, two trends which are visible around the world but particularly in Asia. Another is a growing emphasis on wellness and nutrition. A third is a focus on commercialization of segments that are not yet commercialized along with rising demand for 100-percent juices or more full juices that are not sweetened or blended. And then there is the “convergence” between the dairy, juice, energy and water segments.
“These were historically differentiated segments. If you were a juice player, you played in the juice space. If you were a dairy player you played in the dairy space. And even if you played in both these spaces, the two spaces were distinct,” according to Robbins. “But, you are seeing more and more juice with dairy, juice with water, energy-based dairy juice drinks. These different segments start to collide and combine.”

For companies – from producers to brand owners – a big differentiator is going to be their ability to improve on their producing and distribution technology to better preserve taste while minimizing the use of additives. It is by finding these opportunities that Emeterra hopes to set itself apart.

“Sometimes our proposition might not be to provide a single juice but we might play an added role to a brand owner by combining A and B more cost effectively and perhaps even concentrating on the retention of nutritional elements and taste to provide the brand owner with something that is pre-blended,” says Robbins, who is also a senior advisor to Olympus Capital Asia, a private equity firms that focuses on agribusiness as one of three key sectors.

Going forward, Robbins believes areas like cold-press and fibre inclusion in juices are particularly interesting and so are products from tropical such as mangoes, papayas, guavas, pineapples, kiwis, star fruit and passion fruit. Many of them are capturing the global imagination and this should boost demand.
“I think tropicals have a long way to go. Orange dominates the global juice space followed by apple. And then you have stone fruits. If you look at where tropicals play a role in the global scheme of things, it is extremely small. And you are seeing a greater role for tropicals definitely in the pan-Asia space,” says Robbins. “You have to provide consumers with a wide variety of options.”

A recent example of how this might happen is the explosive growth in the market for coconut water. These days, coconut water is everywhere. The turning point, says Robbins, was the use of technology that made it possible to package the coconut water and preserve the taste. There was not a single technological breakthrough that made packaging coconut water possible, but rather a bit of thought and some research and development effort.

It is in such technological steps that Robbins expects to find a lot of opportunities.

“We put a lot of effort and a lot of time and a lot of research dollars and time into doing things technologically better,” says Robbins.

“It’s sustainability, it’s traceability, it’s cost, it’s dependability. To me, you find someone who is sustainable and is low cost but if you aren’t dependable and if you aren’t able to provide something in the time-frame required and in the quality that is required, that is an issue for a brand owner,” says Robbins. “Continuity of supply is absolutely critical, continuity of quality supply.”

Robbins used to work with Coca-Cola, where he headed up the drink giant’s global agribusiness activities, and left in the middle of 2013 to set up Emeterra, a B2B company that aims to operate in a sustainable space focused on the area of value-added processing, particularly in sweeteners, dairy and juices.
Speaking to Fruit & Veg World, Robbins said Emeterra wants to set itself apart with better processing technologies.

“Agri-tech is the differentiator for us to do this. It could be technology in terms of how things are grown. How they are moved from the point where they are grown to the point where they are processed, how they are processed and finally how they are moved to the end customer,” says Robbins.

The firm is also working with private equity firm Olympus Capital, which invests in agribusiness, clean energy and financial services.

“I think we have the ability to do things… in some cases quite differently,” says Jacob. That, he says, is what will allow the firm to succeed in the market. The edge for Emeterra will be around technology, which he calls “the chip in the game to be able to play.”

“That piece about traceability and sustainability is almost a given,” he says.

The focus might be on enhancing yields dramatically for a given crop or finding a way to process a product to lower costs by eliminating waste or eliminating steps in processing. Distribution is another area in which the firm might be able to find opportunities to, for example, limit deterioration after harvest.
A challenge is that brand owners don’t always want to integrate vertically but there might be opportunities to partner with producers. Emeterra is ultimately a processor but, depending on the crop, may be willing to work directly with producers.

“It is about doing it faster and doing it more cost-effectively. And it is about embracing appropriate, relevant technology,” he says. “Obviously to have a cold chain is great but it is expensive and it takes time to develop. Sometimes the points where the produce is grown, to have the benefits of a cold chain all the way to where production is, is not always easy.”


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