Janet Street-Porter: Very smooth and very sweet but very far from innocent

Tuesday 15 April 2014 05:11

Innocent, the company that made its name on two points of difference, ethical credentials and healthy products, has sold a large chunk of the business to Coca-Cola – a predictable move. Coca-Cola makes money flogging sugary drinks that are brilliantly packaged as part of an attractive lifestyle option – and so does Innocent.

The company, started by three guys who met at Cambridge, has always stressed its commitment to healthy living and worthy causes. A year ago, I filmed a report about smoothies for Channel 4 and discovered just how gullible the public are. Most of us think smoothies are packed full of fresh fruit and must be healthy. We drink 60 million pints of the stuff a year, making smoothies the big success story of the soft drinks market over the past decade.

All the manufacturers, Innocent included, stress just how many of the Government's recommended "five a day" portions of fruit and veg are in their products. But when you look at the sugar content of smoothies, a different picture emerges. If you eat an apple, you get fibre and sugar (about 10g) in one neat, totally natural package. Nutritionists say that a small bottle of some smoothies contains three times the amount of sugar as an apple and could be swallowed in less than a minute. The slower process of munching raw fruit is far better for you. The sugar in smoothies is derived from fruit and is natural, but that doesn't make a large amount of it any better for you – and Innocent products are no different. Log on to its website and you will find that a little 250ml bottle of its pineapple, blueberry and ginger smoothie contains nearly double (196 per cent) of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, but more worrying, over a third (35 per cent) of the guideline daily allowance (GDA) of sugar. The story is no different for the mango and passionfruit smoothie, or the strawberry and banana one, both of which contain 34 per cent of the recommended GDA of sugar.

Innocent smoothies are a relatively expensive drink, and sales suffered at the start of the recession, although they have been rising again. The company has launched veg pots, expanding its product range, and emphasises just how many of the Government's recommended five-a-day portions they contain – generally three. Again, if you bother to inspect their full nutritional content, you find they contain 20 to 23 per cent of GDA salt intake in each 400 gram pot, about a fifth of the daily allowance.

Looking at the contents listed in order of volume, the main ingredient in three of the recipes is tomato, and water is the second largest ingredient in three of them. Kidney beans only make up 6 per cent of the Tuscan bean stew, squash only makes up 6 per cent of the Moroccan squash tagine, and sweet potato only constitutes 4 per cent of the sweet potato chilli. My point is that Innocent has come an awfully long way with clever happy-making packaging and PR, and no wonder Coke wanted a piece of the action.

Smoothies and veg pots are for a generation that don't like the sight or taste of unadulterated fruit and vegetables. They may not harm consumers, but neither are they the wonderfoods of the PR hype. By promoting five-a-day portions, the Government plays into the hands of the marketing industry, which uses these targets to validate their products, when we'd been better off (financially and nutritionally) eating a baked potato, a few carrots or a can of kidney beans. The success of smoothies proves we like sugary drinks, whether they are made by Coca-Cola or Innocent.

Parky has said what many of us are thinking

Just as I thought we'd been granted a few days' respite from the Jade Goody memorabilia industry, Sir Michael Parkinson dares to raise his head above the parapet and say what a huge number of people secretly think.

Writing in Radio Times, he says the dead reality-TV star represented "all that is paltry and wretched about Britain today... her death is sad... but it's not the passing of a martyr or a saint, or God help us, Princess Di".

Parky and I have had our differences, but on this occasion he's triumphed. According to the odious Max Clifford (estimated fee for handling Jade's public relations over the past few weeks, £200,000) Jade "saved" and "will save" countless lives of young women.

That is to forget the thousands of anonymous women all over the country who regularly donate to cancer research, who work in hospices and who toil selflessly as Macmillan nurses.

Jade can't be allowed to hijack the whole business of cancer, and Parky has hit the nail on the head. Jade was "brave", but then so is every single person who has to come to terms with this dreadful disease. Why buy a Jade Goody candle, by the way, when you can simply make a donation?

Forget athletics. Turn to runner beans...

Easter sees garden centres overwhelmed with customers stocking up on vegetable plants and cloches, vainly hoping to be self-sufficient by August. I went for a couple of seed trays and emerged with a load of bay trees, compost, and potatoes to chit.

My grandfather and father were the vegetable growing oracles in our family, but they've departed to that great allotment in the sky, and advice on the internet can be confusing – especially if you are in the windy north and the people flogging seeds are in the sunny south. I'm a month behind London and last year lost my broad beans because of frost in May. Help is at hand, however. The Royal Horticultural Society and other organisations are recruiting "vegetable doctors" to offer free advice. Anyone can register on www.eatseasonably.co.uk for help. The Government declared gardening part of our Olympic effort – it's far more stressful than athletics.

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