Processed foods are rarely a good thing. We have evolved to eat food that is a balanced mixture of lots of different components. When you process food you usually make it more chemically uniform and unbalanced. A good example is fruit juice. Eating an orange gives you sugar, fibre and vitamins. Squeezing the juice out removes the fibre altogether and the longer you leave it before you drink it the less vitamins will be left.
On top of that, you can drink fruit juice a lot quicker so you have a much better chance of getting a lot of sugar into your body a lot faster than it is designed to cope with. Fruit juice might be healthier than say a fizzy drink. You still have some residual vitamins and many fruit juices don’t contain preservatives. But that is not setting the bar very high. Fizzy drinks offer almost nothing except a fast source of energy, so it isn’t hard to beat them. Fruit juices are basically squarely in the processed food domain and represent something where convenience is paramount over goodness.
Bearing this in mind, it is not remotely surprising to see that Innocent Drinks are owned by Coca Cola. It is a very logical fit in terms of the product. It is also understandable in terms of the size of company. Innocent turned over £200M in 2012 in the UK. Coco Cola’s trade mark carbonated concoction did a bit over a £1,000M. So that is a pretty substantial business.
Innocent now do a lot more lines, but they are still best known for their smoothies. These retain their healthy image with consumers and this is something the company’s marketing efforts work hard to maintain. For a start they cultivate a slightly eccentric air of fun and frolics. Their headquarters are located in the bohemian Ladbroke Grove area of London and are called Fruit Towers. You can ring them on the Banana Phone. Hey! You guys are crazy.
But they are of course a large corporation so I don’t doubt that all the specific claims they make on their packs and their website are completely legal and can be justified. For example their Antioxidant Smoothie points out that antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage. This is true enough – without antioxidants cells would rapidly get broken down by, well, oxidants. So the cells in the apples, bananas and kiwis that are quoted as the three main ingredients in this smoothie will certainly contain antioxidants. Those antioxidants will then be available to you once you’ve ingested them.
Antioxidants generally work in what is known as a sacrificial way. The free radicals hit the antioxidant instead of something important in the cell. This means that inevitably the antioxidant value of foods goes down with time. A fresh apple will have a lot more antioxidants than a very old one. Both will have more than a bottle of juice which has been processed – which will introduce oxygen breaking down the antioxidants -and left to stand.
To be fair to the smoothie, you do get some other interesting fruits in there which might have some extra vitamins in. I also note that they have started adding vitamin supplements to their products. (I don’t think they used to do that? If anyone knows please correct me if I am wrong.) That might overcome the objection that the processing and storage has reduced the vitamin content.
But you can’t get away from the lack of fibre. The presence of carbohydrates that take a lot of breaking down is one of the reason fruit is such an effective snack. Once you have eaten some fruit your body will set about breaking down the complex carbohydrates it contains and releasing the resultant glucose into your blood stream. This is a much healthier form of nutrition.
So there is a real mismatch here between what the marketing story is telling you and the reality. What Innocent are suggesting is that they are offering a healthy drink that will promote good health. The true story is their product is nowhere near as beneficial as eating fresh fruit. It might be a handy substitute for it from time to time. I usually pack bananas and apples when I go on a long car journey, but I can imagine that a smoothie might be a good source of energy that might do the job as well sometimes.
But my real question is what good does a brand like Innocent do? They make some charitable donations apparently, which I suppose is to be commended. But the rest of the time they devote considerable creative energy to misleading people into thinking that their product is a lot healthier than it really is. I know there are much worse things that go on, but it is a good idea to remember that no brand in any industry ever has your best interests at heart.