Sugar has been a controversial subject in recent years, with many researchers and health experts suggesting that the sweet ingredient poses a bigger dietary threat than certain fats or cholesterol. Some commentators even concluded that the sugar industry was instrumental in crafting the anti-fat movement that shaped millions of American diets during the 90s.
Now, countless consumers are attempting to kick the sugar habit for a variety of health-based reasons. This is no easy feat considering how much sugar has snuck into packaged foods, including things that you’d never expect like salad dressing, sauces, and yogurt.
Popular juices, such as orange juice and apple juice, have nearly 1oz. (25 g) of sugar per 1-cup serving (250 ml). Israeli startup Better Juice launched in December 2017 to find a way to cut the sugar count of beverages, starting with orange juice. Its team consists of several food professionals including a biochemist and microbiology academician with extensive experience in product development.
Better Juice derived a method for reducing sugars in orange juice by converting them into nondigestible forms, including dietary fibers such as fructooligosaccharide (FOS) and other nondigestible molecules without impacting the natural flavor of the beverage.
Better Juice uses non-GMO microorganism activity and continuous bioconversion to process large volumes of juice with little effect on overall costs, according to the company. Better Juice conducted several trials with different beverage companies and succeeded in reducing sugars in orange juice between 30% to 80%. The startup can now provide a proof of concept for orange juice.
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We spoke with company founder and CEO Eran Blachinsky, PhD, to learn more about Better Juice’s beverage journey.
How does your technology work?
We developed innovative technology to reduce the load of sugars in orange juice. We would like to help juice manufacturers to reduce sugars naturally. Our innovative technology enables us to reduce the amount of sugar in juices. We developed a continuous flow sugar reduction process to reduce the simple sugars in an orange juice. The enzymatic technology uses all-natural ingredients to convert sugars (fructose, glucose, and sucrose) into prebiotic and other non-digestible fibers and sugars while keeping the juicy flavor of the beverage.
When did you launch and what growth stage are you at as a company?
We launched in December 2017. We have completed our lab-based proof of concept phase and we are working on an industrial pilot. We are currently looking for investors to help us scale up and go to market.
Who is your target customer?
Our target customers are juice and beverage companies.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
One of our challenges is the conservative nature of the juice industry that is largely attributable to labeling restrictions. The juice industry is subjected to very strict regulatory laws that limit their choices so any product that does not match the regulatory juice definition is not accepted. We are overcoming this by convincing them to think of this as a marketing issue. The public is calling for a sugar reduction solution and we must find a creative solution to overcome this challenge. One of the companies that I spoke with believes that it is their responsibility to change the regulation to overcome these labeling limitations.
Skepticism was another obstacle. People find it hard to believe that we are actually doing what we are claiming. That is easy to overcome when we provide samples for analysis.
What’s been the most surprising aspect of your startup journey so far?
We launched our startup without actual funding. We had to prove our technology and all we had was a few milliliters of sugar-reduced juice. Our seed investors insisted on figures. We finally managed to pay for some analysis and surprisingly the results of the lab analysis showing the sugar reduction were even better than we expected.
Are there any other startups that you looked to for guidance or as a model when you were getting started/as you scale up?
There is not a specific startup that is my model. I believe that since there is only one Better Juice I will have to pave my own road to success. I learn from every startup or mature company by listening to their stories. I try to embrace the good decisions and avoid their mistakes. My life philosophy is that I can learn from everyone. Despite all that, I am sure I will make my own novel mistakes.
Who are your competitors?
There is no actual competitor as there is no similar product in the market, as of today. But, there are some technologies that are trying to reduce sugar, too, including added enzyme, chelating agent, reverse osmosis, and fermentation. But they are less cost effective.
Is there any application for this technology beyond orange juice or juice in general?
We have looked into other fruit applications such as apple, grapefruits, vegetables, and the analytics are very promising. We believe that any natural sugary product is a viable candidate for applying the technology such as honey, maple syrup, etc. Juice is used as raw material in different products like beverages, ice creams, marmalade, confectionaries, and more. These products are sold with reduced sugar as they add no sugar but they have the limit of the innate juice sugars. We can provide the manufacturers with a new raw material to be able to produce 0% sugars in beverage, ice creams, etc.
What’s your fundraising experience been like? Who are your investors?
Our investors are The Kitchen Hub (TKH) Hub, Strauss Group’s food-tech incubator. The Strauss committee consists of professionals from the F&B industry. They are aware of the huge need and has a professional CTO that appreciates the technology. Their questions and attitude demonstrate that they know what they are doing.
How have your investors added value beyond capital? What do you look for in an investor?
The TKH have added value in many aspects of a startup’s needs. Jonathan Berger, the CEO and Amir Zaidman, VP, of TKH guide me when I need guidance and discuss with me business strategies. In addition, they connect us to the right companies and people to take the company another step forward. The CTO Dr. David Nini joins our technology meetings and shares priceless advice with us from his vast experiences. The ideal investor is one that is supportive yet gives us continued independence.
Have you interacted with any major corporate CPG companies?
Due to the TKH good business relationships, We are in contact with some of the biggest F&B companies internationally. We are already collaborating with a few F&B and equipment companies and are currently conducting trials
Any advice for other startups out there?
Don’t be afraid to try. If you will not try, then you will never succeed. Make sure that your technology has a real advantage in the market and is one you really believe in.