Tsahi Berezovsky knows his juices. As CEO of Prodalim Group, a global distributor of drinks for Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Dr Pepper, he has followed the elusive search for a low-sugar fruit juice that tastes as good as the natural version.
In August, Berezovsky signed a multi-million dollar deal to distribute 100 million liters of juice produced by BlueTree Technologies, a small Israeli startup with new technology that simply removes up to 50 percent of the sugar from naturally squeezed orange juice without harming the taste.
“BlueTree has invented a fantastic technology that allows you to reduce the sugar and still keep the taste,” Berezovsky says.
“We sampled many reduced-sugar juices made by many different technologies,” he says. “In the end, if orange juice doesn’t taste good, no one will drink it.”
More than 17 billion liters of orange juice are squeezed worldwide every year – an annual $30 billion market that is growing by 5 percent each year, says Yuval Klein, founder and CEO of BlueTree, which is based at the Fresh Start FoodTech incubator in northern Israel established by OurCrowd with Tnuva, Tempo and Finistere Ventures.
Despite being rich in vitamin C and helpful nutrients, fruit juices contain high amounts of natural sugar, undermining their health benefits.
“Sometimes nature is not so healthy and we need to adjust it to our own needs,” Klein says. “Natural orange juice has a lot of good things inside, but without all the sugar it will be like a superfood.”
“About five million people – the same number as have died from the coronavirus – die each year from obesity,” he says, much of it caused by excess sugar.
“Most of the sugar that we eat, including the sugar in orange juice, can cause cancer. More and more countries are levying taxes on high-sugar drinks,” he adds.
BlueTree is running its first prototype at Fresh Start in Kiryat Shmona, producing up to 50 liters per day. The company has also signed a contract with Priniv, an Israeli soft drink manufacturer, and is poised to sign a memorandum of understanding with a global juice and beverage producer to market BlueTree’s output to several international brands.
The company expects to see its first sales in 2022. It is currently raising a funding round through OurCrowd, the investment platform based in Jerusalem.
Unlike other methods of reducing sugar which use enzymes that alter the chemical makeup of the juice, BlueTree uses patent-pending technology based on a naturally occurring compound. Immediately after the juice is squeezed, it is filtrated and passed over the compound, which simply extracts the sugar.
The by-product, says Klein, is a new type of pure sugar which he calls “orange sugar” that could be used to manufacture face cream and other consumer products.
“We are doing something completely different to our competitors. Ours is the only process that physically removes the sugar. There is no loss of any fruit, no dilution, and no loss of taste,” Klein says. “No-one has done this before. The result is a reduced-sugar version of the orange juice we all drink in bottles. It’s fresh, 100% natural, but with less sugar.”
“Fifty percent of the sugar in the juice is sucrose, like the white sugar you put in your coffee. It sticks to our compound and the juice flows on without the sucrose molecule,” Klein explains. “It removes only the sucrose and leaves the glucose and other molecules alone.”
Orange juice usually contains between 9 and 12 percent sugar, depending on the oranges. BlueTree hope eventually to reach 4.5 percent.
“We know that with 30 percent less sugar the juice stays fresh, it feels like orange juice, it’s still very tasty – and the product is natural, the same as half and half milk is natural,” Klein says.
“We believe that by the end of 2022 we are going to start selling this in Israel, for the first time anywhere in the world. The following year we plan to start producing and distributing this juice worldwide.”
In tests, half of those surveyed consumers reported they actually preferred the flavor of orange juice with 30 percent less sugar, while noticing no difference in the smell or texture or the drink.
If the technology succeeds at commercial scale, it could also be used to reduce excess sugar in other beverages, and remove lactose from milk.
Klein notes that rising temperatures across the planet have given grapes a higher sugar content, resulting in wine with an alcohol content as high as 60 percent. Vineyard owners have turned to BlueTree asking if the technology can be used to reduce the sugar content from wine before it ferments and turns to alcohol.
“We have a chance to make the world better by reducing the sugar from all of nature’s liquids,” Klein says. “And not so we can make something for the elite few – I strongly believe that our product should reach everyone.”
For more information about investing in BlueTree via OurCrowd, click HERE.