Smoothie companies are profiting from a health boom, but are their ethics as pure as the fruit they include? Dr Nicola Scott investigates?
Smoothies are certainly very popular. Last year, Britons drank 34 million
litres of them, enough to fill 14 Olympic sized swimming pools.(1) In 2006
£170 million worth of smoothies were sold in the UK,(2) and last December
the BBC reported an approaching smoothie war between smoothie
bar chains jostling for consumer loyalty in an increasingly health-conscious
society.(3) Given the health benefits often claimed by companies, are these
images justified and do their ethical credentials match the health claims?
Or is there some pulp fiction going on?
5 a day?
The UKs National Health Services recent drive for us to eat
at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily came at a time when
British teenagers were found not to be eating them. The UK was 19th out
of 21 of the worlds economically richest countries in terms of the
percentage of 11, 13 and 15 year olds who reported eating fruit every day.(4)
Smoothies have often been marketed as products which could contribute to
buck this trend, helping us to achieve the governments 5-a-day target.
However, Department of Health guidelines state that a drink can only ever
count as one portion despite the amount you drink or however many fruits
are blended - a message backed by the Food Standards Agency. Some companies
in our table have been criticised for suggesting that their products included
more than one portion of fruit. However Dr Cathy Higginson of Health Scotland
added that some smoothies appear to have higher levels of fibre and the
guidelines might need clarification.(5)
In an attempt to make fruit smoothies more appealing to children, in
May 2007 Innocent announced that its Kids Smoothies would be sold in McDonalds
Happy Meals in a few UK branches in the North East.(6) Given criticisms
made of fast food chains such as those in the films Supersize Me
and Fast Food Nation, Innocents customers had mixed views
about this decision:
I dont see it as supporting McDonalds ethics, I see it
as helping the children who eat there to be a bit healthier.
What were you thinking of - McJuice, McSmoothie or McDollar?(7)
Surely others must ensure that children eat fruit long before they become
a consumer in a fast food restaurant, such as their parents, guardians,
schools, or even the government. For example, healthy smoothies could be
made more affordable in schools, or other places where children spend time.(8)
Healthy for the environment?
While drinking pure fruit smoothies is a healthier option compared to other
snacks-on-the-go such as chocolate bars, the environmental impact of their
production must be considered. Transporting fruit year-round from tropical
climates, as well as packaging it in plastic bottles often made from non-renewable
fossil fuels, can all negatively affect the environment. Annually in the
UK we generate an estimated 1.5 million tonnes of plastic waste through
To reflect consumer interest in these issues, in March 2007 the Carbon
Trust launched a Carbon Reduction Label for products.(10) The Trust, a UK
government-funded independent company established to help the business and
public sector reduce carbon emissions (a key cause of climate change), had
developed a label to demonstrate a commitment from companies to reduce their
carbon footprint through cutting their carbon emissions, including carbon
dioxide (CO2). In order for a company to use the label, it had to agree
to reduce its carbon footprint over two years from the date that products
received the Label. Innocents Mangoes & Passion Fruits smoothie
was the companys first product to include this label.(7) Also, by
June 2007 the company predicted that its bottles will be made from post
consumer recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate),(11) a plastic regarded
by some environmentalists as less harmful to the environment than, for example,
At the the time of writing only one company in the product table, The Natural
Beverage Company, had its complete range of smoothies Fairtrade certified,
while Soma Organic was in the process of gaining Fairtrade accreditation.
Consequently, when looking at the table it seems that incorporating ethical
supply chain values has not been important to many companies, especially
as many fruits used in smoothies can now be sourced from certified Fairtrade
suppliers, or other accreditation schemes which address supply chain issues.
BBC Food in Season www.bbc.co.uk/food/in_season
- Find out which UK fruits are in season to help you to make a smoothie
using locally-sourced ingredients.
Fairtrade Foundation www.fairtrade.org.uk
020 7405 5942 Has information on which fruits have Fairtrade status,
and where you can buy them when making your own smoothies.
firstname.lastname@example.org - Smoothie recipes by dedicated smoothie enthusiasts!
Also includes information on Fairtrade issues and the nutritional value
of different fruits.
Waste Online www.wasteonline.org.uk/resources/InformationSheets/Plastics.htm
0845 331 31 31 Provides information on recycling plastic, such as
1 Mintel Report, October 2006, Smoothies 2 Key
Note Market Report, March 2007, Fruit Juices & Health Drinks
3 www.bbc.co.uk viewed 09/05/07 4 UNICEF, October 2006, Child
Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries
5 The Scotsman, 9/2/06 6 www.innocentdrinks.co.uk viewed 1/5/07
See EC105 for information about the Rainforest Alliance 7 www.innocentdrinks.co.uk
viewed 2/5/07 8 Innocent Kids range sold in schools were cheaper
at the time of writing than its bottled smoothies sold in high street shops
9 Figure adapted from www.wasteonline.org.uk viewed 15/5/07 10
www.carbon-label.co.uk viewed 2/5/07 11 Fresh Trading Ltds
Sustainability Policy April 2007 12 www.ellaskitchen.co.uk viewed