Lemon juice is replacing citric acid as an acidifier in more and more products and it is moving to the top of the ingredients list and featuring more and more on the front label. It is being used as an acidifier in juice blended drinks where lemon juice concentrate is being used for tartness and other products that go from yoghurt to a very wide range of products. In non-alcoholic beverages lemon is considered to add the refreshing character to herbal, vegetable and fruit beverages and stands third behind orange and apple in the table of strongest flavours in non-alcoholic beverage product launches last year.
In terms of world lemon juice supply for the period 2016/17 Argentina is way ahead at 61% leaving the nearest country, Spain, trailing at just 15%. With 75% of Argentina’s fruit harvest going to industrial use compared with only 35% across the other main sources of supply. Small fresh fruit exporters are losing ground and share to the big producers. Predictions are that demand for lemon juice will continue to grow and diversify into new usages and that new trends and changing consumer habits call for higher standards of fruit production and juice processing. Only processors that can meet these new standards will be capable of supplying lemon juice for the front label. Following his presentation at the Juice Summit on trends in the lemon juice industry, Fruit Juice Focus caught up with Santiago Martinez Founder of U-Citrus, a Uruguayan based sales and logistics structure for world-wide supply of fruit juices to talk in depth about how new customers are using lemon juice in a number of different ways.
Fruit Juice Focus (FJF): Can you tell us about the changes in the ingredients list for fruit juices and how lemon juice has become a prime ingredient in recent years?
Santiago Martinez (SM): There are three key changes and I will outline them here.

Unlike other juices – particularly the main juices such as orange or apple, lemon has always been treated as a minor ingredient and not a fruit juice in its own right, except obviously for salad dressings. What we are seeing now on the demand side are changes within the ingredient list. Firstly, lemon as an ingredient has gone from practically non-existent to existent. Historically citric acid has been widely used as an acidifier in fruit juices and other products. This is not necessarily the case anymore. If you are launching a beverage product nowadays that claims to be natural you should not use citric acid as an ingredient. You need to use a fruit juice, and this is where we see the rise in popularity for lemon juice as a replacement for citric acid. With the huge rise in new product launches worldwide in recent years (see fig 1) claiming freshness and sustainability as a major selling point (reportedly 20% year on year for the past five years) a major opportunity has arisen for lemon juice to become the ingredient of choice to help these products fulfil these claims. The second key change is where lemon appears in the ingredients list for a functional purpose. Many of the new super fruit juices and super veggies are looking for ingredients that will provide the freshness that consumers desire. And lemon is the answer. You only need to look at the explosion of new launches in the beverages market and you will find that lemon is not only being used as an acidifier in these products but also increasingly to add that touch of freshness. And thirdly is the launch of the new lemonades. This is fantastic news for lemon because the enormous difference now is that the new lemonades are using upwards of 10% to 14% lemon juice content where normally you would have seen as low as 1 or 1⁄2% in a typical multifruit nectar. Each glass of lemonade that replaces a glass of nectar in the consumer’s share of stomach represents a 10 or 20-fold increase in lemon juice consumption.

Let’s take the Hollywood analogy and you can see how lemon juice has risen from a bit part player to a star role in the ingredients list. When you watch the credits roll at the end of the movie in the cinema there is a long list of names that nobody cares about scrolling up the screen. Lemon in the ingredients list has many times been the equivalent to “safety guard #3”. But now lemon can be seen in the opening credits as one of the stars or main characters of the production. That’s how much things have changed for lemon over the past few years. Why – because lemon is fresh. It is lemon juice plus watermelon, lemon juice plus herbs, lemon juice plus strawberry. All the other juices or ingredients are now no longer the main character. The main character is now lemon.
And another interesting development, and I refer to my Hollywood analogy again, when lemon is the lead character, the star of the ingredients appears on the front label – this movie star needs to go to the hairdressers, to be well dressed for the red carpet. This means that the quality of the lemon juice at this level needs to be the best, whereas when lemon juice was just an acidifier at the end of an ingredient list of 10 fruits nobody really cared about the freshness or the colour of this lemon. The changes I see are: firstly, the replacement of citric acid. Secondly lemon as a character of freshness in this new range of beverage launches. And thirdly, lemon as the main fruit. All this means we will have to focus much closer in the quality of the lemons we produce and supply. Another point to consider when talking about quality is AR’s. When lemon is not a tiny ingredient anymore, a whole new level of quality parameters need to be
FJF: This is a whole new set of rules and regulations then, being introduced for the lemon industry along with associated costs?
SM: Yes, but basically those are being already matched by the main suppliers from the main countries of origin. At the same time, some origins will not be able to reach the new quality requirements that will become the new world standard.

FJF: Lemon juice is obviously a good business to be in currently. You source your lemons from Argentina, can you tell us about industry and market conditions there at present?

SM: Yes, we have an easier life than many other colleagues in the fruit juice business. Right now, lemon is a very healthy sector to be in. The good news about Argentina is that 75% of lemons are produced for industry already. The whole region is industry focused will be even more in the near future. If you look back at the orange fruit juice industry in Argentina it was larger than Brazil in the 1960s. You can see there a very easy example of what can be achieved when you focus in producing for industry at the correct geography.

FJF: Are lemons resilient to disease such as citrus greening?

SM: Yes, they are resilient to some diseases. Most of the orange trees were killed by diseases but the lemon trees survived. But if you are talking about HLB then there is no good news. HLB will arrive and we will have to live with it. We will have to do what countries like Brazil are doing and learn from their experience.

FJF: Do you see any other countries or regions competing with Argentina?

SM: To be very honest, a good business will always create its own competition. This is a reality. Argentina does have an advantage, but will have to increase its focus in producing for industry and setting the world’s highest quality standards. The serious global buyers who are looking for significant supply of lemon juice concentrate with strict parameters of freshness, colour, traceability and the lowest AR’s content will have few alternatives to Argentina origin.

FJF: Do you see the trend for lemon slowing any time soon? With the trends of sustainability and naturalness growing in developed countries they appear to be prepared to pay the price for quality and provenance, particularly the younger generation.

SM: Yes, what is going on for lemons stems from the demand side. The demand figures are very interesting. We are growing our supply year after year and the demand is still there and will continue to grow along with the increasing new product launches that are promoting natural ingredients and freshness. To conclude: we are seeing larger production figures than ever before, and we are seeing the demand growing year by year. Our sales figures have grown substantially, specially to those customers who pack products based on these new trends. The new customers – those that are launching these exciting new beverage products on the market – are increasing their consumption year after year. It is definitely an upward trend. From the lemon industry’s point of view – long may it continue.

Everyone is a winner.

Right now, lemon is a very healthy sector to be in.

The new customers - those that are launching these exciting new beverage products on the market - are increasing their consumption year after year. It is definitely an upward trend. From the lemon industry’s point of view - long may it continue.

Everyone is a winner.