Harmless Harvest was one of the first beverage companies to employ high pressure processing (HPP), a non-thermal safety method that uses high pressure to inhibit bacteria growth. The company promoted HPP as a process that retains the flavor and nutrient content of coconut water close to that of its raw form — and it effectively established Harmless Harvest as the company that is responsible for, and the leader of, a premium quality and pricing level for the category.
Now things have changed: At Natural Products Expo West, Harmless Harvest representatives revealed that the company is planning to transition away from HPP and in April will begin using a new proprietary filtration system. The change comes nearly five months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned Harmless Harvest that it was not doing enough to ensure the safety of its coconut water products.
Harmless Harvest CEO Giannella Alvarez described the new processing method as “series of multi-step micro filtration” linked to “an aseptic filling and packaging system.” The coconut water will continue to undergo no thermal treatment and maintain the same level of nutrition and high quality flavor as with HPP, she said.
The beverages will continue to require refrigeration once bottled, but, according to Alvarez, will give the product a shelf life of 60 days, up from 45 with HPP. Additionally, Alvarez said that company would begin using new bottles that cut back on its use of plastic by 24 percent, a reduction that would not be possible with HPP.
In an interview with BevNET, Alvarez and Harmless Harvest co-founder Justin Guilbert explained why they made the change, provided details on the development of the new filtration process, and discussed the company’s interaction with the FDA in recent months.
We’ve condensed the interview into an edited question-and-answer format:
BevNET Managing Editor Ray Latif: Was the decision to end use of HPP triggered by the FDA warning letter?
Harmless Harvest CEO Giannella Alvarez: It wasn’t necessarily triggered by the FDA. We had been working on alternative technologies for a long time. All this did was accelerate it. We were on this path for a long time. We had already done quite a lot of work. We had already [been using a form of] multi-step filtration [and] were in the process of understanding what else needed to be done. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do it as quickly as we did it.
Harmless Harvest Co-Founder Justin Guilbert: There’s no way in a million years that we’d be able to introduce this technology at such a large scale so quickly on the heels. I think the warning letter or the interaction with the FDA was a publicized situation, but the reality is that we’ve been in discussions and have been advancing on a lot of different fronts for quite a while.
RL: Do you feel that the filtration method gives you a higher quality product as compared to HPP?
GA: Not at all. I wouldn’t say that it’s a better product. It’s a product that actually delivers what we were looking for. We were not necessarily married [to] any specific technology. We were looking for our own path forward. This has been a quest of the company for a very long time. And we are convinced that this is the right path for us. We can deliver to consumers a product that is extraordinarily good tasting, just like it tastes when you crack a coconut open.
JG: HPP is not a magic box. It’s not a one-size-fits-all technology. It really depends on the… profile of the ingredients that you’re working with. HPP is a great step, but this [filtration] technology is a great new step in the right direction. Everything is now happening at the same location. There’s a lot more logic in terms of stability of the product and, of course, in terms of the shelf life, while maintaining all of the nutritional content and flavor profile.
RL: Is the FDA aware of the new processing method? Has it been vetted by the agency?
GA: We have been working very closely with them. They are fully aware of every single item change that we have done in our process. It’s full documented [and] in their hands. This is not something we started to do because of whatever happened with the FDA. We have been in constant consultation with them. We have been in constant communication with them [regarding] our plans. We have documented and informed them of everything we’re doing.
RL: Harmless Harvest has long worked with tolling partners for its HPP needs. How will they be affected by the changes?
GA: We are very transparent with all of our partners and when we started looking at alternative technologies, we have kept them abreast of what we were doing and how we were doing these things. We’re changing the nature of the relationship that we have with [the HPP tollers]. We will have other services provided by them, but it will not be HPP.
RL: How do you plan on educating consumers about the changes?
GA: At the end of the day, the consumer is not as interested in the details of how a process works. It’s not necessarily our intention to go and make a big deal out of the technology. The intention is to tell consumers that there is a new process we’re using to deliver to them the same great tasting product that they have grown accustomed to love and enjoy. That’s what they want. That’s what we’re giving them.