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Created: September 18, 2003
Latest Update: September 18, 2003
SCHOOL SUPPLIES This can holds about 10 teaspoons of sugar. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/17/dining/17SNAP.html September 17, 2003
The Snapple Deal: How Sweet It Is
By MARIAN BURROS
[T] HEY banished soda from school vending machines, calling it nothing but empty calories and tooth-rotting sugar. They brought in Snapple with the promise of healthier, all-juice drinks for students — and $8 million a year to city school coffers.
Problem is, the new drinks have even more calories and sugar, and are marginally better than soda only because Snapple has added vitamins and trace amounts of other nutrients.
An 11.5-ounce container of the new Snapple has 160 or 170 calories and the equivalent of about 10 teaspoons of sugar, 40 or 41 grams. A 12-ounce Coca-Cola has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar.
As part of a five-year $166 million deal that made Snapple New York City's official beverage, the company won the right to sell these new all-juice blends, called Snapple 100% Juiced!, and bottled water in public school vending machines. The blends — Green Apple, Orange Mango, Grape and Fruit Punch — were created to meet rules that ban soda, candy and other sugary snacks from being sold in the schools.
Most people think of juice as wholesome, healthy, and certainly harmless, and some juices — particularly orange and grapefruit — have a fair number of vitamins and nutrients. But other than the three vitamins and one mineral that have been added to Snapple juice blends, critics say there is little nutritional difference between them and non-caffeinated sodas.
The main ingredients in the drinks, besides water, are concentrates of apple, grape or pear, according to label information provided by Snapple. These are three of the least nutritious fruits and the least expensive concentrates.
Nutritionists have long cautioned that children should not drink more than 4 to 12 ounces of juice a day, depending on their age, because it has a lot of sugar and calories without the fiber found in whole fruit and, with the exception of orange and grapefruit juice, not much else.
"The new Snapple drinks are a little better than vitamin-fortified sugar water because the juices may provide low levels of some additional nutrients," said Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group that frequently criticizes the food industry.
Dr. Jacobson said the juice drinks may have some phytonutrients, antioxidants that may protect against cancer, "but it's not like giving the kids conventional orange juice or grapefruit juice."
"The fact is, they are vitamin fortified and they don't have caffeine, but they are still pretty much the same as a 12-ounce Coke," he said.
Twelve ounces of pure orange juice has about nine teaspoons of sugar and about 160 calories but contains 100 percent of adult daily requirements for vitamin C, 10 percent of folic acid and 2 percent of calcium and other nutrients.
The Snapple drinks are fortified with 10 percent of the requirement of vitamin A, 100 percent of vitamin C, 20 percent vitamin D and 10 percent calcium. Smita Patel, vice president for research and development at Snapple, says she disagrees with the criticism. "The fortification makes the juices nutrient-dense," she said.
Steve Jarmon, Snapple's vice president for partner marketing and community ventures, said the company has done what the city's departments of education and health asked them to do. "We are providing kids with two healthy alternatives," Mr. Jarmon said, "so if the parents don't feel like this 100 percent juice product is right for their child they can give their kids water."
Marty Oestreicher, chief executive of school support services in the city's Education Department, said the drinks are much better than what had been available.
"We had nutritionists who served on our team who put the standards together, and they said 100 percent fruit juice drinks were a major improvement over what is available today, and they feel they're appropriate," Mr. Oestreicher said. "Anything less than 100 percent fruit juice or anything with artificial flavoring or artificial coloring or artificial sweeteners was not acceptable."
Fern Estrow, a registered dietitian and nutrition educator in New York City, said the city schools should be offering low-fat milk and apples in the vending machines instead of these juices.
Mr. Oestreicher said he is not sure whether milk will be available in the machines.
Ms. Estrow is also concerned that exposure to the Snapple logo will persuade students to drink the company's other beverages, most of which are about 10 percent juice and have no added vitamins. "Kids don't know the difference," she said. "Snapple carries a huge product line of basically sugar water."
Mr. Oestreicher disagrees. "We believe our students will be able to distinguish between Snapple drinks once they leave the school," he said.
Dr. Toni Liquori, an associate professor at Columbia Teachers College and director of nutrition services at the Community Food Resource Center, which promotes access to nutritious foods, said she doesn't know why children are being asked to pay for water.
"If anything, we should have cold water in our schools," Dr. Liquori said. "Water is a right; New York City is supposed to have the best water and we're asking them to pay $1 for it?"