Integrity and choice
The New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association (NZJBA) was formed to further the development and interests of the non-alcoholic juice and beverage industry – an industry on which New Zealanders spend in excess of $1.2 billion annually.
When the group was first started in mid-1994, they were known as the New Zealand Juice Association. In 2003, they amalgamated with the New Zealand Bottled Water Association and became the NZJBA. Today, the NZJBA provides an important interface with customers, the government, and other interested parties and acts as a forum to discuss issues of concern and interest to the industry. In addition, they act as a lobby group and an advocate for consumer education on health and nutrition issues.
The NZJBA represents over 95 per cent of all juice and beverages sold at a retail level in New Zealand. Its membership includes manufacturing members, as well as significant suppliers to the industry.
As a lobbying group and industry advocate, the association is well positioned. It deals with the government on an issue-by-issue basis, and it is well respected because of its development of the Independent Compliance Committee (ICC), set up to scrutinise and self regulate the activities of industry producers. The committee comprises representatives of Food Safety Australia, New Zealand (FSANZ) the Retailers Association, Consumer New Zealand, and two members of the NZJBA – including Executive Director, Kerry Tyack.
“We meet independently of the NZJBA and we operate independently,” Tyack says, explaining the ICC’s mission. “Three or four times a year, the ICC subcontracts a research agency and a consultant to randomly test products for compositional efficacy and labelling compliances. From these results our consultant develops a comprehensive report. Where there are areas we see as requiring some kind of remedy we negotiate our way through that – and where there are products that meet all the legislative and health and safety requirements and are labelled appropriately, we let them know that as well.”
Government and related agencies hold the ICC up as a model of self-regulation in the industry. “It’s a highly successful, highly respected subset of the NZJBA, and because of that our relationship with government and its agencies is very strong,” Tyack says.
In addition to the ICC, the NZJBA also has a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) with a high level of technical expertise, knowledge and understanding that Tyack says is invaluable – and is even utilised by government to explore the technical ramifications of proposed legislation. “Whenever issues come up, and proposals are made to change or alter or add to regulations, TAG is well placed to comment and make representations on behalf of the industry,” he says. “If we didn’t, nobody would – there’s no suitably qualified alternative, so it’s very valuable to our members, legislators and the industry as a whole.”
With the ICC and TAG as crucial elements of its governance, the NZJBA provides a high level of integrity to the juice and beverage industry and a great protection for consumer interests. “That integrity is the lynchpin for so many positive things in our industry.”
Members of the NZJBA can leverage that integrity, as well. A requirement of Association membership is prior approval by the Executive and a willingness to sign a Code of Compliance – which is re-signed every time membership is renewed. On the strength of that agreement, manufacturing members can apply to use the NZJBA Compliance Standard logo on their products. That tells consumer that the product is independently verified to meet all current health, safety and labelling standards.
The challenges facing NZJBA are ongoing. “As an organisation, one challenge is to find better ways to represent value to our constituents,” Tyack explains. “We’re always looking for ways to satisfy our members that belonging to this organisation is worthwhile – and that is always a challenge because every new member that joins needs to be convinced while existing members need to remain convinced.”
Another challenge is dealing with the variety of drinks on the market. When the NZJBA was formed, there was just fruit juice, soft drinks, cordials and bottled water regularly available. Today the shelves are stocked with energy drinks, sports waters, teas, and all sorts of other non-alcoholic recreational beverages designed for satisfying a range of needs from extra energy, hydration as part of the Five + a day dietary requirement, or simply as a treat . The NZJBA has to continually reconsider what products should be included in their mandate – and in cases where inclusion broadens the scope of its activities, it needs to ensure it delivers equal value to each and every member.
There are also legislative and political challenges that need to be continuously contended with. There are currently reports being generated on the subject of caffeine, for example, and the association needs to make sure the people charged with preparing the reports are provided with the most pertinent and accurate information – because that may not happen otherwise. “The provision and dissemination of accurate science based information is absolutely critical to the informed debate that must take place prior to any legislative change,” Tyack says.
Combating the negative perception of their industry is a constant struggle, he explains – whether it is the implication that members products are responsible for poor oral health, or obesity, or whatever else. “We fully accept that overconsumption of sugary food and drink may contribute to obesity. There’s no issue there, no one’s going to argue that point,” he says. “But to extend that argument to the point where the heavy burden of blame for every single one of the nation’s health issues is placed on recreational beverages is not acceptable or reasonable or even worth debating. Consumers who enjoy the occasional recreational beverage, be it bottled water, fruit juice, carbonated soft drink or smoothie, should not be denied the pleasure of that drink just because there are certain sectors of people who, for whatever reason, overindulge or fail to take into account the needs of their personal wellbeing.”
“It’s important to provide balance to the discussion,” Tyack adds. “We have a very socially responsible attitude to the manufacture of non-alcoholic recreational beverages. We are clear about the intended purpose of those beverages, and we will work with anybody to ensure the consumer has the right information to make informed choices. But we also reserve the right to give the consumer a choice.”
The NZJBA’s members provide a range of non-alcoholic beverages to the market, for the enjoyment of the consumers. “That’s all,” Tyack says. “There’s no one amongst our members surreptitiously tipping five extra bags of white cane sugar into their products just to capture a sector of the market. That’s just nonsense. We are happy to engage with people who have concerns and show them that we are constantly making the effort to ensure the products meet the highest possible standards.”
“There is no advantage to the industry in trying to hoodwink people,” he concludes. “What has to be protected, though, is consumer choice – and the right for industry to go about its business without being unreasonably blamed or criticised for causing all of society’s ills. Members of the New Zealand Juice and Beverage industry are reasonable citizens who take a very responsible approach when it comes to manufacture and sales of non alcoholic beverages and who have in place a rigorous self regulation regime to protect the consumer.”