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The controversy centers on a technique called HPP (alternately referred to as high pressure processing and high pressure pascalization), where juices are treated under water-based pressure to inactivate certain bacteria and prolong a product's shelf life. Cold-pressed juice only has a shelf life of a few days since harmful bacteria can grow in the unpasteurized drink; juice that is HPP'ed, however, can be safely consumed for several weeks. But is weeks-old juice authentic? This is the question at the heart of the juice industry schism.
Whereas heat pasteurization alters juice's taste and nutrient content, FDA-approved HPP does not involve temperature manipulation and is said to preserve juice's integrity. During the non-thermal process, juices are bottled, sealed, and then loaded into a steel chamber. Cold water enters the chamber via high-pressure pipes, effectively killing microorganisms and increasing companies' abilities to go into wholesale.
Evolution Fresh, most widely known as the juice company that Starbucks acquired in 2011, was the first major juice producer to use HPP. Since then, several other brands have followed suit. BluePrint, the original architects of the juice cleanse craze, started off as an unprocessed juice company in 2007, but after founders Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss sold the operation to Hain Celestial in 2012 (leaving just 18 months later), it began to treat its juices with HPP. This has allowed it to be carried at places like Whole Foods and Target, where some sort of pasteurization process is required by the FDA.
Mary Leong, BluePrint's head of research and development, tells Racked the company began to use HPP because it adds an element of safety to its products. "BluePrint protects every juice with HPP," she explains. "The advantages are a safe juice, as HPP uses literally tons of pressure to inhibit microflora growth which naturally extends the shelf life. Unlike heat pasteurization, pascalization is an external process—the product itself is never touched and never, ever heated. The cold temperature at which the juice is treated, plus the minimal structural impact that pressure has on vitamins, enzymes, and nutritional compounds, means that the juice remains raw, nutrients remain intact, and the taste is unchanged. By incorporating this alternative to pasteurization into our process, we decrease the risk of contamination and improve the safety of our juice.">
Suja, the juicing giant that arrived on the scene in 2012 and has made serious waves (its 2014 revenue is expected to go "north of $40 million"), is another major player that uses HPP.
"HPP allows us the convenience factor that other juice shops don't have."
"HPP allows us to be safe for pregnant women and the elderly, but doesn't affect the nutritional value," says Suja co-founder Annie Lawless. "Our juice is higher quality than Tropicana or Naked. HPP allows us the convenience factor that other juice shops don't have because you can't buy their products at a grocery store. I'll admit, I was skeptical about HPP at first, but when Whole Foods became interested in Suja, we did a lot of testing for HPP and it's amazing how it keeps the integrity of the juice's quality. The purists, the mom-and-pops don't know enough about the process. They lack the knowledge of what it really does."
HPP defenders like Lawless and Leong insist on the high caliber of their HPP juices, but their products are certainly not met without objection. Last October, a group of consumers brought a $5 million class action lawsuit against Hain Celestial, alleging that BluePrint's claims of being "100% raw" and "unpasteurized" were misleading and that the products were specifically marketed in order to charge a premium. According to FDA regulation, juices that undergo HPP cannot be labeled "fresh"—but the definition of "raw" is much more loosely defined. The suit was dismissed in July, but a similar suit was bought against Suja this past February.
"The juice products are not 'raw,'" reads the Suja lawsuit. "The effects of HPP on the Juice Products are identical to those of traditional pasteurization—inactivated enzymes, inactivated probiotics, altered physical properties of the product, and denatured proteins, among other undesirable qualities. As a result of Defendant's use of HPP, its Juice Products are nothing more than run-of-the-mill, processed juices, and fail to provide the same nutrients, enzymes, and vitamins that the products have prior to being subjected to HPP."
"Companies are trying to capitalize on the cold press craze, and it's somewhat deceptive," notes Eric Helms, the founder of Juice Generation. "Ninety-nine percent of people don't know these juices sit on the shelf for 25 days. They are blissfully unaware, and it's not great for the consumer. I would never embrace that practice."
"I would never embrace that practice."
The claims against Suja and BluePrint are not unique. Companies like Naked, Kashi, and Trader Joe's have faced similar lawsuits over the last year or so for what some believe are deceiving health claims. Naked, which is owned by PepsiCo, actually had to cough up $9 million in 2013 and remove all mentions of the word "natural" from its labels.
But when it comes to HPP specifically, the line becomes murky, mostly because the science surrounding it is. For every study that labels HPP inferior, there's one that insists HPP maintains juice integrity. There are research-backed claims that it's the "greatest promise for delivering on consumer demands of safety and health," and there are studies that say its effect in "sterilization of bacterial spores and inactivation of peroxidase is not good" and can't be improved with increased pressure.
"If you took a probiotic type of product and ran it through HPP, it would probably kill it," he says. "But there are a significant number of studies that show enzymes do survive HPP, and enzymes are what we praise plant matter for."
Ayrapetov argues that although day-of juices are first-class, HPP products are a fine choice—especially if the option is to resort to heat pasteurized drinks: "It's a lot better than where we were a few years ago, drinking horrible orange juice. If people knew how their orange juice was processed, they'd be appalled. We are part of a broken food culture, and it's definitely a step in the right direction."
"We are part of a broken food culture, and it's definitely a step in the right direction."
Since there's no definitive evidence to back claims for or against HPP, the practice ultimately comes down to consumer preference. Many non-regular juice drinkers have no problem picking up a bottle that's been on the shelf for a dozen days; more discerning consumers would never buy a green juice from Target that's two weeks old.
Errol Schweizer, a global grocery coordinator for Whole Foods, tells Racked that Whole Foods recognizes that the elite shopper is not going to go for weeks-old lemonade, which is why many of its stores have in-house juice bars.
"We recognize we are somewhat limiting the purchase occasion, which is why we have other options," he says. "The gold standard is boutique juices which are being pressed and bottled right there. That's what we do in our juice bars. That customer is the early adopter who buys the highest quality, fresh-made product."
Still, the economic benefits of going HPP can't be understated. Schweizer notes that HPP juices have been one of Whole Foods' best-selling categories the last five years. There's been an exploding interest in juice, and HPP products are finding their way into the hands of consumers who wouldn't visit a local juice shop.
"Of course I understand the temptation. It would make my life so much easier," says Lianna Sugarman, the founder behind celebrated New York-based juice brand Luli Tonix. She makes it clear she's not "anti-HPP," and though she's testing her juices to observe HPP's effects, she says she'll always opt to go "fresh": "I wouldn't say HPP brands are on a lower level, I just think they aren't as alive and vibrant as green juices that have not been processed in this way. The whole point of juicing is trying to get as close to alive and unprocessed as you can."
Back in July, Organic Avenue announced it would be offering HPP juices for customers to buy online. The opportunity to offer ship nationally instead of continuing just to operate on a local level is hard for a company like Organic Avenue to pass up.
"The home delivery juices receive the HPP process because when juices leave the Organic Avenue facility, they are not under the care of our trained advisors who can control important variables such as temperature, travel time, and perform sensory checks," says Stephanie Manganelli, Organic Avenue's marketing manager.
"The whole point of juicing is trying to get as close to alive and unprocessed as you can."
But to Juice Press founder Marcus Antebi, HPP is like switching over to the dark side.
"You're annihilating good bacteria," he says. "It robs a person of building their immune system. The benefit of HPP, in my opinion, is to go as a supermarket brand with an accessibly method of selling juice on a wholesale basis. HPP could be your third best friend next to non-HPP'ed juice and juice you make yourself at home. But there is a tremendous difference. It's like going to Zales for a diamond versus going to Tiffany's or Cartier. It makes the product inferior."
Juice isn't going anywhere: Last year, the market was valued at $23 billion—and fierce competition may very well compel even more companies to start implementing HPP in order to stay afloat and expand their business. But Juice Generation's Helms believes there's going to be a breaking point.
"All these stores with 300-square-feet of fridges can't be sustainable," he says.
"We've been juicing for 15 years, and we're true to our brand. The companies that are authentic will persevere."