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Research into ultra-processed foods (UPF) and their role in today’s diet is becoming an increased focus for healthcare professionals. But with a range of studies emerging and differing opinions on the matter, it can be confusing for consumers to navigate what the broad term really means.

A recent study highlighted some of these misconceptions when almost half of respondents (45 %) said they wouldn’t be able to define or identify an ultra-processed food or beverage, and the same amount said they don’t know the difference between ultra-processed and minimally processed products.

Orange juice was highlighted as one of the most common misconceptions amongst Brits in the study, with 21 % believing the drink was ultra-processed, despite being minimally processed. In the same study, 19 % even said they avoid buying orange juice as they worry it sits in the UPF category.

Award-winning nutritionist and health writer, Dr Emma Derbyshire says: ‘Some of the misunderstandings around ultra-processed foods are resulting in consumers avoiding certain products which contain healthy benefits. Products like 100 % orange juice are essential in a balanced diet and provide essential vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin C and potassium, needed to help meet an individual’s nutrient needs.”

Top 5 orange juice truths:

  • Unlike ultra-processed products, 100 % orange juice contains no added sugars and cannot be diluted with water under European law
  • Fruit juice counts as one of your 5-a-day fruit and vegetables – a convenient and nutritious way to up your fruit intake
  • The high levels of vitamin C found naturally in fruit juice help the immune system to combat symptoms of common colds and illness and support normal skin health
  • Fruit juice contains potassium, which supports normal blood pressure
  • Drinking orange juice helps your body absorb iron from plant foods
  • Sales of UK manufactured fruit and vegetable juice surge 17 % year-on-year while beer sales fall 16 %
  • Food industry remains the largest UK manufacturing sector, contributing £71.8bn in sales overall
  • Sales of UK manufactured goods hit a record £390.1 billion, up 2 % year-on-year

The manufacture of fruit and vegetable juice was the fastest growing sub sector in the UK food industry, growing 17 % from £654 million in 2017 to £768 million in 2018 – according to analysis of the latest ONS PRODCOM data by Santander1.

Research2 shows that more than half of people aged 16 to 24 consume juice drinks at least once a day. Consumption of smoothies has seen the biggest increase among all fruit juice drinks with Brits spending £112 million alone on these last year alone3.

Sales of UK manufactured beer have meanwhile hit their lowest level in a decade at £3.1 billion – down from £3.7 billion the year before – as young people increasingly turn to alcohol free alternatives. Beer sales reached their peak in 2009, when Brits consumed £4.8 billion in beer.

Food and drink remained the largest UK manufacturing sector in 2018, reporting sales of £71.8 billion – a 3 % increase on 2017. Overall UK manufacturing sales hit a record high of £390.1 billion in 2018 – an increase of £9.4 billion (2.5 %) from the previous year.

Andrew Williams, Head of Food & Drink Sector, Santander UK, said: “Food and drink manufacturing is vital to the health of the economy and the UK is widely seen as a global leader in product innovation. The last decade has seen the food and drink industry shaken up with huge shifts in consumer buying habits – from growing interest in veganism to juice and smoothie diets. Manufacturers are having to respond quicker than ever to develop new products to meet customer demand – a pattern which is likely to continue as Brits explore the latest food fads.”

Ice cream was the second fastest growing food manufacturing sub sector, increasing 14 % from £383 million to £437 million in manufacturing sales value. An unusually hot summer and a shake-up of manufacturers’ product offering, including allergy-friendly and low-calorie options, boosted sales across the UK. The rise of consumers adopting a plant-based diet saw sales of vegan ice cream jump by 26 %.

Despite the surge in sales of fruit and vegetable and ice cream, British staples of cheese (£7.8 billion), bread, cakes and pastries (£6 billion) and processed meat (£7.9 billion) held their place as the foods with the highest sales in the UK overall. UK manufacturing remains the ninth biggest in the world, contributing over 45 % of all UK exports.

Santander has a dedicated team working with a range of food and manufacturers – from coffee experts to Cornish sea salt producers – to help establish trade links with international buyers. As part of helping manufacturers grow their businesses, the team of experts regularly organise international delegations for businesses to meet potential buyers and suppliers in countries around the world. Last year the team took 64 businesses on trade missions to 10 countries, with a further 40 businesses being linked up with partners around the world through inward ‘meet the buyer’ events and virtual meetings.

1 Santander analysis of the ONS PRODCOM data tables published on 1st July showing manufacturing sales by industry and industry sub-sector for full year 2018. Santander analysed the data to find the fastest growing sectors. 
2 Kantar survey of 1,233 respondents, March 2019.
3 The Grocer report on juices and smoothies, 23 February 2019.