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Can juice provide an 'antioxidant advantage'? Tropicana thinks so

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Tropicana has had a vitamin C & E fortified orange juice line for several years, but has changed its name every few years, ranging from the straightforward, to the militant, to the vaguely scientific. (Photo by Scott Olster/CNS)

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With several different varieties and sizes to choose from at this Whole Foods market at Union Square in New York City, consumers have a dizzying array of juice options. (Photo by Scott Olster/CNS)

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Ads during World War II emphasized the need to stay strong and healthy to support the civic cause.

Protection is paramount these days, whether it’s financial protection from a foreclosure or an investment gone sour, or security from threats like terrorism. But in these uncertain times, how protective do you need your juice drinks to be?

Tropicana has had a vitamin C & E fortified orange juice line for several years, but has changed its name every few years—from the straightforward, to the militant, to the vaguely scientific.

When the juice was launched in 2000, it was called Double Vitamin C with 100% E. By 2004, Tropicana added selenium, a mineral that has been linked to a reduced risk of developing cancer, and gave the juice a new name: Immunity Defense. Today, the juice does not contain selenium and is called Antioxidant Advantage.

Tropicana is not the only food and beverage manufacturer that is using defensive-sounding brand names to market vitamin-enriched products. Gatorade, which, like Tropicana, is a PepsiCo brand, has a line of drinks with names that could easily be mistaken for military mottos, like Bring It, Be Tough, and No Excuses.

Snapple has a line of flavored “Antioxidant Water” drinks, one of which is called Protect. Bottles of the vitamin-fortified beverage include messages alerting consumers that they “need a bodyguard” to protect against “microscopic troublemakers like free radicals,” or that “while ‘Beware of Dog’ signs may protect you from salesmen and housecats, they do little to protect your insides.”

Be Healthy Enterprises Inc., a small company based in Draper, Utah, offers a nutrition drink simply called Defender. According to Be Healthy’s Web site, “the motto for DEFENDER is 40 in 40. It means 40 fruits and veggies in just 40 seconds.”

For many shoppers, the name Antioxidant Advantage posed more questions than answers. “Can you even buy plain orange juice without antioxidants?” said Alice Beckman, 32, while browsing the frozen food aisle at a Key Food supermarket in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

The names Immunity Defense and Antioxidant Advantage also elicited skepticism about products with vitamin fortification. “I try to avoid complicated orange juice,” said Elizabeth Medina, a 21-year-old college student majoring in psychology. “My experience with funny-named orange juice is that it tastes really bad,” she said. “I now stick to no pulp, no funny names.”

The defensive names for products like orange juice suggest broader implications about branding decisions.

“The militarization of products points to the militarization of our lives,” said Charles McGovern, a professor of history and American studies at the College of William & Mary who specializes in American consumer culture.

“That people are encouraged to take a punitive approach to their health is central to how people have constructed their attitudes to their environment,” McGovern said, referring to what he described as an increased sense among Americans that they are on their own when it comes to combating external threats.

Tropicana introduced Immunity Defense less than one year after the war in Iraq began, though it is unclear if the name choice had anything to do with the war. Tropicana did not confirm or deny a connection.

Still, McGovern said emphasis on health defense among products like orange juice raises notable comparisons between the expectations placed on the American people during the current conflicts abroad and events like World War II.

“During World War II, everybody needed to be strong and healthy as possible,” McGovern said. “A healthy product also had a civic” component. Even a beverage like beer could be marketed as being good for body and mind.

In 1943, the Pabst Brewing Co. advertised its Blue Ribbon beer as a “wartime prescription” in an ad that declared, “This is the Doctor of Blue Ribbon Town.” The ad featured an illustration of a silver-haired doctor saying, “Take one or two War Bonds in regular doses, Keep calm and avoid an unhealthy ‘psychosis.’” A narrator added the following postscript to the doctor’s note: “May we add to the doctor’s advice, Keep friendly Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer on the ice.”

These days, the prevalence of vitamin-fortified health beverages raises the question of whether there is any health benefit to producing them this way.

This seems like “a very haphazard approach,” said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and a professor of public health at the Yale School of Medicine. “There are several issues with nutrient fortification,” Katz said. “Nutrients thrown in may not be what people need.”

Though Katz noted that, when done thoughtfully, vitamin fortification could be helpful, he said it is highly unlikely that people can keep track of the balance of vitamins and nutrients they consume in a day and that there is no benefit in consuming excessive amounts. “Mega-dosing” with vitamin C “is not beneficial,” Katz said.

Tropicana’s approach reflects what consumers believe they need. “We listen to our consumers to meet their changing health and wellness needs,” said Karen May, a spokeswoman for Tropicana. “The Tropicana product portfolio offers solutions to some of the most common consumer health concerns.”

Names like Antioxidant Advantage and Immunity Defense are potent marketing tools that mobilize consumers. “Marketing is about raising problems and resolving them,” McGovern said.

An elderly woman at a buzzing Whole Foods supermarket at Columbus Circle in Manhattan made her way to the juice shelves and surveyed the 11 varieties and five different sizes of orange juice available. Her eyes gravitated toward Tropicana’s purple Antioxidant Advantage label.

She said she doubted that the juice’s healthy promise on the carton made much of a difference. “Just make sure you get a good date,” she said as she walked away with the juice in her cart.

E-mail: smo2002@columbia.edu