A joint investigation by CBC Marketplace and Radio-Canada's L'épicerie reveals that much of the premium not-from-concentrate orange juice on the market, including juices from Tropicana, Simply Orange, Oasis and others, is highly processed and may be stored for several months before making its way to supermarket shelves.
That processing may keep the juice from spoiling, but it also strips the flavour, which has to be put back into the product to give the juice its orange flavour.
"If you're paying premium thinking that it's a fresh-squeezed product, then there is a problem there, because it's not," Alissa Hamilton, author of the book Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice, told Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington.
"All I think is necessary is that we are informed about what we're buying."
According to a survey commissioned by Marketplace, 95 per cent of Canadians who drink juice say they want to know what’s been added to their juice, and they think the label should tell them.
But many leading juice companies do not disclose, either in marketing or on the packaging, that they add natural flavour to juice.
Marketplace tested popular brands of premium orange juice for evidence that flavour has been added. The results of that investigation will air Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC Television and online.
Premium price tag
Canadians spend almost $500 million a year on orange juice, including premium juice, which is often marketed as "fresh," "pure," "natural" and "not from concentrate."
And that premium comes at, well, a premium.
"’Not from concentrate’ costs quite a bit more than ‘from concentrate,'" says Hamilton. "They're trying to convince you that that's because of the fresher product, that you should pay that much more."
The Marketplace survey, conducted online by the polling firm EKOS in November 2014, also found that 62 per cent of Canadian orange juice drinkers said they believed that premium juice is fresher than juice made from concentrate, and 58 per cent say they believe it’s more natural.
In fact, 46 per cent were willing to pay more for these juices because they believe them to be more natural.
The survey involved English speakers who said they had bought or consumed orange juice in the last six months.
But Hamilton says that "what you're getting back in these flavour packs is an engineered product."
Flavour packs are made when fragrance companies take extracts from orange peel to reproduce the aroma and taste of freshly squeezed oranges.
More transparent labelling, she says, would give consumers a better indication of how much processing goes into premium orange juice.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which regulates food labels, told Marketplace that while adding flavour packs is allowed, companies should label products processed this way "orange juice with added flavour."
"If a producer adds orange oil or orange essence to their product, the label must indicate with added flavour and the added levels of the oil," the agency told Marketplace in an email.
Many consumers have come to prefer the flavour of premium juices to natural juice.
"There's definitely a disconnect with that trend that we're seeing, that people actually prefer the taste of a processed product, and yet they still want to believe that what they're buying and drinking is fresh," Hamilton says.
Companies say flavour is for consistency
Solange Doré, vice president of Lassonde Beverages Canada, which makes Oasis juices, told L’épicerie "these are flavours that come from the fruit, they are an integral part of the fruit. So, in essence they've been lost and we collect them and restore them.
"So we're not adding synthetic flavours, it's very important to understand that difference," she said.
For that reason, juice companies don’t feel that the labelling is misleading and say that the packaging complies with existing regulations.
Coca-Cola, which owns popular brands Simply Orange and Minute Maid, told Marketplace in a statement, "orange oil and orange essence is extracted during juicing to capture the natural orange taste and aroma, which may be later blended back into the juice to ensure a consistent, fresh-squeezed taste.
"The amount of orange oil or orange essence that may be re-added to the juice is within the range that is commonly found in freshly squeezed orange juice," the statement said.
"All of our beverages are produced to the highest safety and quality standards, and meet all safety and labelling regulations set out by Health Canada and the CFIA."
PepsiCo, which owns Tropicana, told Marketplace in a statement that "our products meet the requirements of the food and drug regulations."
Juice drinkers in several U.S. states have filed class-action lawsuits, charging the makers of premium orange juice with deceptive practices for marketing their juices as fresh and natural.
Based on a Marketplace investigation by Virginia Smart and Anu Singh.