Review: Jones GABA Fuji Apple Tea Juice

Back in June 2007, we reported that Jones Soda secured the rights to use a liquid form of the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) exclusively in beverages from licensee in Japan where it was created. A new product line featuring GABA was promised for Winter 2007, but nothing happened.

Jones GABA Fuji Apple Tea Juice

Around this time, Jones Soda made a huge move into canned soda products, which proved to be disastrous. The Puget Sound Business Journal noted that Jones admitted their mistake:

“Going away from bottles was a serious mistake. The cans did cannibalize some of the bottle presence”…

For fiscal 2008, the company reported a net loss of $15.2 million, or a loss of 58 cents per share, which compares with a loss of $11.6 million, or a loss of 45 cents per share in 2007. Revenue fell to $35.9 million from $39.8 million in 2007.

Working to recover from the bad 2007-8, Jones Soda has a new CEO in ’09 — Joth Ricci. During an earnings call this year, the company reported an emphasis on new fun flavors, including pushing Orange Cola more broadly.

However, one of the biggest pushes for 2009 is the launch of the Jones GABA line, Jones’ push into the functional beverage market thanks to the PharmaGABA rights they secured in 2007.

There are four tea-juice blends in the non-carbonated Jones GABA lineup: Jones GABA Lemon Honey, Jones GABA Nectarine, Jones GABA Grapefruit, and the drink we’re currently taking a look at, Jones GABA Fuji Apple.

According to Jones Soda, “GABA (already popular in Japanese foods and beverages) is a natural amino acid that increases alpha brain waves, which improve mental focus, balance, and clarity.” It’s a big push into a different type of marketplace for Jones, which has typically just been involved with carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks, juices, and water. However, the “functional beverage” market is seeing more players get involved, which makes sense, as these brands diversify while the carbonated soft drink market continues to decline.

Like other brands in this same space, Jones Soda presents a lot of research, findings, and data to support the helpful benefits of ingesting GABA. They argue “higher test scores, better putting stats, seamless performances, and smarter, more focused presentations.” Whether you buy into all that or not, it’s there for the reading. Some of the major emphasis seems to be placed on tests conducted in Japan with various demographics, placing GABA against a placebo to prove its effectiveness.

As for the packaging and design, I give a thumbs up to the folks at Jones. The labeling is very attractive, with sharp lines, clear colors, and an easy way to delineate between flavors. That said, there is a LOT of copy written on the tall 12 oz. cans, much of which is used to explain what GABA is and why you should drink stuff that has it. There’s a “new age-y” feel to the design, especially in the use of the lines and swirls that are found on the can. In the case of our Fuji Apple flavor, the color scheme resonated primarily with light green.

When you open the can, you are greeted with an clear apple scent. Of course, Jones Soda is no stranger to the world of apple flavorings; they’ve used it quite a bit, not only in their mainstream Green Apple Soda, but also in some of their limited-edition holiday flavors (Jones Apple Pie Soda, Jones Apple Sauce Soda, Jones Dread Apple Soda). For example, I thought the scent hinted at 2006′s Spider Cider Soda that was part of the Halloween collection that year.

The color of the drink is a cloudy yellow, amber hue, much like a beer. It’s not carbonated, and the can recommends that you shake well before opening. I should mention that “natural ingredients” were used in this beverage, including inverted cane sugar. Here’s the full ingredient list:

Jones GABA Fuji Apple
Filtered Water, Inverted Cane Sugar, Apple Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color, Citric Acid, Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (PharmaGABA™), FTC Natural White Tea From Brewed Tea, Tea Polyphenols

The taste surprised me, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m so used to a Jones product being overly sweet and carbonated, that when presented with a tea/juice blend, it threw me off a bit. No doubt, Jones is also aware of this perception as they try to position this new brand. One thing is for sure, if you like tea, you will probably like Jones GABA Fuji Apple.

The drink starts off with an obvious apple flavor, not as light as say Sidral Mundet, but still pretty clean. The tea influence kicks in rather quickly, and if you were expecting a robust, strong, and sweet flavor like a soda, you may find the drink a bit weak. That said, it’s a very flavorful combination of apple and tea tastes, probably with more of an emphasis on the tea leading into the aftertaste. I rather liked the apple influence, which leaned more towards a green apple than your standard red. I also enjoyed the fact that the drink on whole was rather mellow, complimenting food or being solid on its own. Having digested just one can, I can’t really comment on how the addition of GABA affected me; I was primarily focused on the taste. Thankfully, it was nothing like Snapple Pie!

A 12 oz. can of Jones GABA Fuji Apple contains 80 calories, 20 mg of sodium, and 19 g of sugars. The back of the can also notes that this drink contains 12% juice, as is also Fair Trade Certified.

Jones GABA Fuji Apple is a unique combination of both fruit juice and tea. The flavor was subtle at times, bold at others. The apple taste complimented the tea surprisingly well, producing a beverage that wasn’t only refreshing, but also had the potential for various functional benefits.

Full Disclosure: This beverage was provided compliments of Jones Soda