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Zest without excess: What you should know about IncreBio’s sugar-reduced juices

Written by Open Source Published on   4 mins read

Relish the taste of juices but cringe at their high sugar levels? Good news: IncreBio will soon serve up sugar-reduced juices that promise a comparable taste with significantly less sugar.

This story originally appeared in Open Source, our weekly newsletter on emerging technology. To get stories like this in your inbox first, subscribe here.

Juices hold a significant place in diets worldwide. They are also often touted for their health benefits—that they are nutritious, have body cleansing properties, and can even aid weight loss. It’s therefore little wonder that juices have become a massive industry, witnessing a 7.25% year-on-year growth in 2023 and is set for further expansion, with Technavio projecting a CAGR of 8.55% from 2022–2027.

The purported benefits of juices have, over time, been bundled under a common moniker: the “juice myth.” This term serves to cast doubt on these benefits, suggesting that they are scientifically unproven, particularly because of the high sugar content inherent in juices as they are mainly derived from fruits.

We wonder, however, if this may soon require reevaluation when a company by the name of IncreBio debuts its range of juice products next year.

IncreBio, formerly known as JuiceInnov8, is a Bangkok-based food tech company with a simple but ambitious mission: to “revolutionize juice.” Specifically, the company has developed a proprietary biotechnology solution that enables the production of juices with significantly lower sugar content.

This solution is unconventional in its utilization of microbes to reduce the sugar level of juices. IncreBio’s technology involves using a fermentation platform to control the pathway of sugar-reducing microbes within a bioreactor. This process unlocks the ability to precisely “guide” these microbes to break down and consume the sugars within juices.

While this may seem simple, IncreBio’s solution is the culmination of meticulous research efforts spanning eight years. The intricacies of commercializing this technology can be traced to the task of identifying and isolating microbes with the specific sugar reduction effect required.

All fruits typically contain three primary types of sugars: fructose, sucrose, and glucose. However, the distinct sugar molecules in each fruit species necessitate a unique combination of microbes. IncreBio also exclusively employs microbes that are isolated from plants, fruits, or edible flowers, adding to the rationale behind the extended timeline.

Graphic illustrates IncreBio’s approach to reducing the sugar content in juices.
Graphic illustrates IncreBio’s approach to reducing the sugar content in juices. Graphic courtesy of IncreBio.

IncreBio’s latest development aligns with the global rise of health-conscious consumers. Singapore, the company’s first target market, exemplifies this trend through its Nutri-Grade labeling policy. Aimed at encouraging the consumption of healthier drink options, this initiative mandates the use of a traffic light-like labeling system to display the percentage of sugar content in packaged beverages. Beverages with a D-grade—the lowest grade possible under the policy—are even prohibited from being featured in advertisements in Singapore.

It’s worth noting that juices stand as one of the few remaining beverage categories without sugar-reduced or sugar-free alternatives. In response to consumers’ heightened awareness of their sugar intake over the years, beverage companies have been adjusting their offerings accordingly—albeit gradually. The Coca-Cola Company, a trailblazer in this regard, introduced the Diet Coke in 1982 and followed up with the Coca-Cola Zero in 2005. Today, the majority of packaged drinks offer sugar-reduced or sugar-free options, and some companies, like Chi Forest (formerly known as Genki Forest), even specialize exclusively in low-sugar and sugar-free drinks.

IncreBio plans to launch two products in Singapore by the first quarter of 2024, including sugar-reduced variants of orange juice and apple juice. Both products, with up to 70% of natural sugars removed, are anticipated to have the lowest sugar and calorie content as compared to available alternatives in the market. According to a statement by the company, both products’ sugar content per serve is expected to be lower than a glass of plain milk, and will likely achieve the B-grade under the Nutri-Grade policy.

As new regulations are set to extend the Nutri-Grade policy to freshly prepared drinks by the end of this year, IncreBio is also exploring collaborations with restaurants, cafes, and juice bars, among others, in Singapore. It is hoping to offer its sugar-reduced juices not only as dine-in beverages, but also as ingredients to concoct mocktails, smoothies, and other types of mixed drinks.

IncreBio has been developing a variety of mixed drinks that incorporate its sugar-reduced juices, including fruit teas and an inventive orange espresso, among others. Photo courtesy of IncreBio.

While skeptics may question whether reducing sugar compromises the flavor of juices, IncreBio has been proactively conducting taste tests to collect feedback and assuage such concerns. In December 2022, the company conducted a limited-offering launch in Bangkok through a pop-up store and selected food services, offering its drinks to over 8,000 consumers.

In November this year, IncreBio also participated in the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH), when it held its first public juice tasting event, drawing over 500 participants and showcasing generally positive consumer reception. KrASIA took part in this event and found that while slight differences existed between the flavor profiles of IncreBio’s products and full-sugar juices, the company was able to replicate the same sweetness with significantly less sugar content.

More than 500 participants engaged in IncreBio’s first public juice tasting event at the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH). Photo courtesy of IncreBio.

While Singapore will serve as IncreBio’s inaugural market, the company is already envisioning its expansion into other markets. When KrASIA interviewed Sean Trairatkeyoon, founder and CEO of IncreBio, in August this year, he said that the company is keen to tap into nutrition-conscious markets, with the US high on its list of coveted markets. Ultimately, the trajectory of IncreBio’s growth will hinge on the reception its products receive in Singapore following its early 2024 debut.

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