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Posted on Mon 12th Jan, 2015 in: Industry Comment, Influence, Issues Management, Public Relations by Emma Lister

The fruit juice sector has come under scrutiny in recent years as health-conscious consumers have become increasingly aware of the amount of sugar and calories contained in juice drinks. Harsh media headlines have done little in the way of preventing this scrutiny from critics and to some extent have even heightened the public relations problem, with many consumers being put off juice drinks as a result of scaremongering stories. And last week, Asda announced it would be the latest supermarket to cut sugar from own-label soft drinks in a backlash against the sector. Although some of the key juice brands which dominate the category undeniably have health benefits (such as Innocent Smoothies, which often contain two portions of fruit in each bottle), this rich vitamin content has largely been taken for granted by the media and consumers, as they begin to question the negative effects, instead of the benefits. This year, as part of a European campaign, we should expect to see these juice companies 'fight back' to change public opinion and get people back onside. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Conserve Italia, Eckes-Granini, Friesland Campina, Juver, Maspex, Refresco Gerber and Wesergold are among the organisations involved in a large-scale communications plan. The core message is "juice is authentic, natural and good for you"?, focusing on the positive qualities of juice drinks. They'll be using the backing of the scientific community and nutritionist advocates to convert those who are not convinced by the health benefits. However, for a major campaign like this to succeed, there are a few things the communications teams need to consider in order for it to be as impactful as possible. Whilst it's fantastic to have the world's major juice drinks players involved in a European campaign, it's essential that the top-line messages are tailored nationally so that it is relevant to the different countries involved: France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK. The audience must be considered at all levels of the campaign, from developing the messages to the delivery. Any confusion will leave the audience lost in translation and potentially alienate them further. Most importantly, whilst the PR campaign needs to highlight the health benefits in what drinking juice drinks do offer the consumer, it's also important it addresses negative perceptions around sugar and calories. Transparency is more important now than it has ever been for these brands. Consumers and critics will continue to question where drinking juice drinks fits in with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Now is the opportunity to educate people on why juice adds value in terms of providing vitamins and contributing towards a healthy diet. For example, reinforcing that fruit contains natural sugar in its most organic state, before it is manufactured into juice, is something a lot of consumers are not aware of. They assume that the sugar contained in these juices is added during production and is refined. By being honest with the consumer, they're answering their questions about sugar. If brands ignore the flak which has caused the decline of the category over the last few years, consumers will only be more disillusioned. Lastly, I think it's important that the campaign is cohesive and has the full backing of these large organisations. Without their full support, the campaign is in danger of losing momentum fast. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the two largest soft drinks brands in the world, with the likes of 5alive, Copella and Tropicana in their portfolios, which means they are visible within the market and the best companies to lead the campaign. This campaign's strategy is about uniting the soft drinks community to tackle this criticism head-on, so it needs committed communications professionals from large organisations like these behind it all the way.  

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