Gea and Israeli food tech start-up Better Juice have won their first commercial project to reduce the sugar in fruit drinks. A major US beverage manufacturer is to incorporate the groundbreaking innovation into its production process in early 2022. The customer expects to be supplying fruit juices with at least 30 percent less sugar to supermarkets as early as spring.
Gea will be responsible for construction, installation and operational support, while Better Juice will produce the immobilized microorganisms for the enzymatic process. Better Juice’s solution is the first in the world to naturally reduce the sugar content of fresh juice drinks by up to 80 percent, without affecting their nutritional value, mouthfeel or natural taste. Gea specially developed a bioreactor for this patented process.
Translating theory into effective technologies
Gea frequently works with innovation partners such as start-ups, so that it can react more quickly to market trends and explore alternative solutions. “Better Juice has the potential to add real value to the global juice market, as reducing sugar consumption is a dominant trend in the food industry today. We set out with the aim of laying the groundwork to put the innovation into industrial production,” says Steffen Rathmann, vice president Non-Alcoholic Beverages at Gea, of the cooperation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has increased demand for vegetable and fruit juices as vitamin-rich, immune-boosting drinks for the years to come. Experts estimate the market to grow by about five percent per year until 2026.
Scaling-up after pilot phase
Gea is now integrating the unit, which has a capacity of 200 liters per hour, into the beverage manufacturer’s existing production line. “Scaling-up is always a challenge for solutions developed in the lab,” says Gali Yarom, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Better Juice. “Gea gives customers the assurance of being able to develop their own product variants and expand capacities later. We’re excited that in just a few months the first drinks will be on supermarket shelves across the USA – with less sugar than regular juice, but all of the goodness.”
Enzymatic sugar conversion in the bioreactor
At the beginning of the year, Gea and Better Juice had announced their plans to jointly develop a technology to reduce the sugar content of juice for the global beverage market. While Better Juice’s microbiologists invented the biological process, Gea designed and built the pilot-scale process technology. The heart of the system is a bioreactor containing GMO-free immobile microorganisms. The juice passes through the vessel continuously and, in the process, the microorganisms’ enzymes convert sucrose, fructose and glucose into prebiotic, non-digestible molecules that are beneficial for the intestinal flora. Now patented in Europe, this innovation has self-affirmed FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status, which opens the door to marketing the system to food and beverage manufacturers worldwide.