Better Juice: Israeli food-tech converts sugars into prebiotic fibre
Better Juice is gearing up for a second round of seed financing to support its scale-up and hit the market with unique technology for converting sugars in juice into dietary fibre
Food-tech start-up Better Juice is bullish on the impact its new technology can have on the natural orange drink industry. The company’s innovative bioconversion technology can reduce the load of simple sugars in fruit juices naturally.
Experts estimate that more than 20% of a person’s average daily sugar intake originates from drinks. Popular orange and apple juices have nearly 25 g of sugar per 1-cup serving (250 ml).
While low- or no-sugar alternatives exist in many drinks, the natural juice industry lags behind as to date there have been no sugar-free alternatives to pure fruit nectar. But that’s about to change with Better Juice.
Eran Blachinsky, a PhD microbiologist, founded Better Juice in 2017. The start-up developed a bioconversion method for reducing sugars in orange juice through a continuous-flow process.
Headquartered in Ashdod, Israel, Better Juice kicked off operations with the support of The Kitchen Hub, the food-tech incubator of Israeli food giant Strauss Group. The start-up has secured strategic investments from Maverick Ventures Israel and Citrosuco, Brazil’s largest producer of orange juice concentrate.
“Back in 1985, my father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,” says Blachinsky, adding the whole family decided to reduce sugar consumption. “I was surprised to learn that even though fruit is considered healthy, my father’s physician recommended he avoid fruit juices due to their high sugar content,” he adds.
Fruit processing was a familiar arena to Blachinsky. In 2015, he had worked at a business-to-business fruit-processing company producing jams and confitures for dairy food companies and bakeries.
“One of our products was a jam with no added sugar, designed for diabetics,” says Blachinsky. “Although The Israeli Diabetic Association approved this product, the recommendation of my father’s physician was still in my mind.”
Blachinsky says that products might have no added sugar, but still contain more than 3% of natural sugar originating from the fruits themselves.
A solution to no-added-sugar products
Sugar reduction is a challenge high on the agendas of international food brands as well as government agencies that have introduced front-of-package labelling initiatives.
“In the past decade, we have succeeded in recognising the harm of sugary drinks like soda. We can’t keep pretending that juice is different,” a team of paediatricians told the New York Times in July 2018.
Blachinsky took this information on board and teamed up with Roni Shapira, from the Hebrew University. The two put their heads together in the search for an innovative means to reduce the sugar load of juices without actually taking them out of it.
Three years on, and the start-up is installing a semi-industrial pilot plant within Citrosuco’s facility this summer.
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Bullish on the positive impact of the patent-pending technology, Better Juice says the pilot plant will be available for future testing by interested parties directly at their facilities.
The start-up has already secured contracts with several global orange juice producers, including Citrosuco.
How it works
Better Juice’s technology works with fruit juice, which is handled in a column containing immobilised, non-GMO microorganisms that convert the sugars into prebiotic dietary fibres and non-digestible sugars. The process only converts sugars, so that juice retains the full flavour and naturally occurring complement of vitamins and nutrients of the fruits.
“Besides sweetness, sugars have other organoleptic properties. They add body to the juice, providing a unique mouthfeel, and a sense of satiety,” explains Gali Yarom, co-founder, chief operations officers, and vice president of business development.
“Taking sugar out will make the juice more diluted and watery,” she adds.
Yarom says that during product development, they discovered a bioconversion method whereby enzymatic activity can change the molecular structure of the sugars so that our body will not digest them.
“The bioconversion occurs without degrading innate fruit compounds or altering flavour; it only slightly reduces the sweetness,” she explains.
The process can be applied to all types of juice sugars including sucrose, fructose, and glucose. The columns can easily be integrated into existing manufacturer facilities and the process imposes very minimal impact on the final juice costs.
Better Juice claims the technology is kind to the environment as all materials in the column filler are food grade and can be used as feed after usage.
“The global juice industry is worth $100 billion,” says Yarom. “Our goal is within a year to enable the supply of natural juices that carry more favourable Nutri-Scores.”
Nutri-Score is a new food label system that converts the nutritional value of products into a clear letter and colour code on the packaging in Europe.
Better Juice is now entering its second seed round to support its scale-up campaign, which is scheduled for completion at the end of this year.