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I must have been affected by the heat of one of the few seasonal days this summer when doing my online shopping because I suddenly felt the need to include a cold, refreshing, liquid standby or two in my store cupboard. A recent resolve to avoid alcohol, apart from as a weekend treat, took me to an unfamiliar aisle, the soft drinks section, and there I noticed 'Five Alive'. I remembered enjoying the citrus version of this years ago but here was a variety I had not seen before, 'Berry Blast'. Being quite partial to all things of a "summer fruits" persuasion, I thought this was one not to miss. Unfortunately it was to prove as much of a disappointment as the weather!
Had I realised that Five Alive was a Coca Cola product, I would probably never have added it to my shopping basket. I am too lazy to gen up on all the brands I should avoid as a would-be ethical consumer but Coca Cola is a giant among offenders when it comes to the lack of principled credentials. From the bullying tactics it has employed in repressing trade union activities in its Columbian bottling plants to its depletion of the groundwater resources in India, its lack of corporate ethical responsibility is only too well documented. However, the tetra pack was sitting in my kitchen and could not be wasted so I determined that its pedigree would not affect my judgment of the product itself.
The 1 litre pack is attractive and the magnified berries adorning it look very inviting. However there is nothing to suggest it is recyclable and such tetra packs are specifically excluded from the recycling bins in my area! So far the product scored nil points!
At first glance the nutritional qualities look impressive. It does not contain any artificial colouring, flavouring or preservatives. It does contain added vitamin C which "helps your body absorb iron from your food" and added zinc which "can be important for a healthy immune system". In fact just 100ml contains 25% of the recommended daily allowance of both vitamin C and zinc. So far things are looking promising and even the 63 calories per average 250ml serving doesn't appear too prohibitive.
However then I notice in the small print that vitamin C and zinc are not the only additives, the drink also contains added sugar and sweeteners. The 250ml average serving contains 15.3g of sugar, a massive 17% of the adult RDA. The nutritional picture is immediately tarnished. Moreover both of the artificial sweeteners used, aspartame and acelsulfame K are controversial. A possible connection is claimed between aspartame and diseases such as brain tumours, brain lesions, and lymphoma whilst acelsulfame K is a suspected carcinogen.
This information was not enough to deter me from a tasting. Allegedly so much of our food today has inherent dangers that I have become almost blasé about it. The five fruits in the 'brew' are apple, blackcurrant, grape, raspberry and strawberry and, as I pour my first glass I am impressed with the colour. It's has a rich enough appearance resembling a light red wine (remember this is not achieved by artificial colourants) and looks appetising. The aroma is not as appealing. I suppose I had been expecting the distinctive richness of summer fruit recipes but its bouquet is not at all distinctive, just a vague non citrus sweet fruitiness, nothing more.
On to the biggest disappointment of all, the taste. According to the information on the box, this is supposed to be " a delicious blackcurrant taste". To me it is mostly strawberry flavoured with a slight tang of raspberry and blackcurrant but, overall, sickly sweet and exceedingly watery. I did not enjoy it at all and when I looked at the ingredient list a little more closely, it was no surprise to learn that it contains only 30% fruit juices (made from concentrates). Apart from the added vitamin C, zinc, sugar, sweeteners and citric acid, the rest is water! It's interesting to note that the citrus variety contains 42% fruit juice - a far more respectable ratio!
I did finish it all but only because to throw the contents down the drain, as I was tempted to do, would have been a waste. It is a longlife product but, after opening, it had to be refrigerated and consumed within three days so I was heartily sick of it by the time I threw away the empty carton.
At around 89p for a litre 'Five Alive Berry Blast' is not expensive but, with around 65% water content, it has very little more to offer than a good quality squash which works out far cheaper. For example, Sainsbury does a 1 litre high juice summer fruit squash for £1.09 and this, when diluted, makes twenty servings, whereas "Five Alive" offers just four. In addition squash has the added advantage that it keeps for ages and can be dipped into as required.
Even if the manufacturer of this product had impeccable ethical credentials, I would not be buying it again. It is not very appetising nor does it seem a particularly heathy option and it certainly does not represent value for money.