A longtime favorite topping for ice cream desserts, cherry also has found its niche within the beverage industry. According to Beverage Industry’s New Product Development Survey, published in the January 2014 issue, 29 percent of respondents named the fruit flavor as a top-seller in 2013. Flavors, however, aren’t the only

Cheribundi cherry drink, Functional Group

Cheribundi offers its functional tart cherry juices, which are not from concentrate and contain 40-50 fresh-pressed tart cherries in each bottle with added ingredients. (Image courtesy of Cheribundi)

way cherry is making a splash in the beverage marketplace; more consumers are finding favor with cherry juices as well.

“While cherry juice is not as established as other juice markets, it is growing rapidly, especially as awareness increases about the benefits of tart cherry juice,” says Steve Pear, chief executive officer of Cheribundi, Geneva, N.Y.

That growth has come in the form of a number of new product launches. According to the Netherlands-based Innova Market Insights, new cherry juice products in North America increased 143 percent for the first six months of 2013, compared with that same time period in 2012. However, the market research firm notes that product launch activity seems to have stabilized this year, as new cherry juice products are down 6 percent for the first six months of 2014, compared with the same time period in 2013.

Innova found a similar pattern when it looked at cherry juice product launches on a global scale. For instance, the market research firm tracked a 35 percent increase in product launches in the first six months of 2013 compared with 2012; however, it also recorded a 7 percent decrease in product launches in the first six months of 2014 compared with the prior-year period.

Despite the stabilization of new cherry juice launches, consumer interest in these beverages is not slowing down. For the 52 weeks ending June 15, bottled cherry juice sales were up 10.6 percent, totaling more than $50 mill-ion in sales in total U.S. multi-outlets including supermarkets, drug stores, mass merchandisers, gas and convenience stores, military commissaries, and select club and dollar retail chains, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI).

Accounting for 43.2 percent of the cherry juice segment, R.W. Knudsen, Chico, Calif., saw sales increase nearly 23 percent in the 52-week period. However, the No. 2 market share holder in the cherry juice segment, Juicy Juice, formerly of Glendale, Calif.-based Nestlé USA but recently purchased by Greenwich, Conn.-based Brynwood Partners, experienced a 15.4 percent decrease in the term, based on IRI data. Despite this sales disparity between the Top 2 sellers within the segment, cherry juice has seen a number of brands post double-digit sales growth, including Miami-based Florida Bottling Inc.’s Lakewood Organics; Bethlehem, Pa.-based Smart Juices LLC’s same-named product; City of Industry, Calif.-based Langer Juice Co. Inc.’s L&A brand; and Cheribundi.

Tarter options

Although consumers seem to be enjoying all cherry juice varietals, one seems to be gaining more attention: tart cherry juice.

“We are pleased to see the growing interest in tart cherry juice and encouraged by the increased demand,” says Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer of the Cherry Marketing Institute, Dewitt, Mich. “From an industry perspective, we’ve seen a shift in selling tart cherry juice concentrate in bulk to selling the juice in retail stores, which has translated into a huge movement in price to growers.”

Manning adds that tart cherry juice is filled with naturally occurring compounds that offer a number of benefits. “Tart cherry juice is abundant in anthocyanins, a natural compound that contributes to their ruby red color, distinctive sour-sweet taste and potential health benefits,” he says.

Cheribundi’s Pear notes that tart cherry juice actually has a higher oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) than other fruits and juices including acai, blueberry and pomegranate. In addition to its Original and Light varieties, Cheribundi also offers products with added benefits such as Rebuild, which contains protein; Restore, which has electrolytes and vitamins; and Relax, which contains L-theanine. The brand also has a Refresh line, which includes tea and fruit blends, smoothie packs and a soon-to-be-released Black Cherry juice, which is scheduled to hit store shelves this fall, Pear says. All of the brand’s juices are not from concentrate, he adds.

Both Pear and Manning highlight a number of other benefits that tart cherry juice can offer consumers, including pain management, athletic recovery and improved sleep. For instance, the phytonutrients and anthocyanins in tart cherry juice have been associated with reducing inflammation-causing enzymes, Pear explains. Tart cherries also contain melatonin, which could be an aid for people looking to establish regular sleep patterns, Cherry Marketing Institute’s Manning says. He also notes a number of studies that have linked tart cherries with recovery benefits.

“Researchers have found that tart cherry juice may help ease muscle pain associated with intense exercise,” Manning says.

However, consumers might not be aware of all of these health benefits. To help spread the word about the healthfulness of tart cherry juice, Cheribundi launched a 7-Day Challenge campaign. “The Cheribundi 7-Day Challenge encourages customers to add 8 ounces of tart cherry juice to their diet for seven days in a row to discover the benefits,” Pear says.

Pear adds that the Cherry Marketing Institute also has been instrumental in educating consumers about tart cherry juice and has been promoting a similar challenge.

“As more awareness is raised about the benefits of tart cherries, the market for tart cherry juice will grow,” Pear says.

 Given its health and taste benefits, Cherry Marketing Institute’s Manning thinks cherry juice could help boost the overall juice market. “Tart cherries could help reignite juice sales by giving consumers a tart, nutrition-packed option to more traditional juices,” he says.