Why SunnyD Isn't Actually Orange Juice

For many '90s and 2000s kids, SunnyD (or Sunny Delight as it was formerly known) was a top choice of "juice" with a color you could see from outer space and sticky-sweet citrus flavor. A mainstay of middle school soccer practice and packed lunches, SunnyD has a nostalgic place in pop culture and our hearts.

Now that many of us former SunnyD guzzlers are adults, the beverage's neon color and astronomically high sugar content beg the question, what exactly is SunnyD? The bottle doesn't claim that the contents are actual orange juice, although many people may have assumed that it was. The treat's successful "unleash the power of the sun" marketing campaign (via YouTube) planted the seed in the heads of moms and kids alike that SunnyD was a "healthy" choice, packed with vitamins and minerals like its real fruit juice counterparts. If you take a look at the packaging on the website, it's actually categorized as an "orange-flavored citrus punch," so what exactly does that mean?

SunnyD's fluctuating recipe

According to the SunnyD website, the juice-like beverage was invented in 1963 but didn't really take off until the beginning of the '90s. By that decade, SunnyD had exploded in the U.K. Jane Bainbridge of Marketing magazine told BBC, "It was a phenomenon. This product came from nowhere and went in as the 12th best selling grocery product. I mean, in all the time our magazine has looked at these figures, no brand has ever done that," she said.

The stronghold that SunnyD had on the U.K., and America as well, came to a screeching halt in 1999 when a 4-year-old girl's skin turned yellow after drinking copious amounts of SunnyD (which contains beta carotene), another BBC article reports. She suffered no serious adverse health effects, and yet, SunnyD just couldn't recoup. The incident spurred the drink to rebrand in 2003 and relaunch in 2009, according to The Tab. The relaunch saw a first for SunnyD: a formula containing mostly real fruit juice. The new SunnyD boasted 75% juice and no added sugar, but it flopped, so the manufacturers reduced the juice content to just 15% the following year. As for how much fruit juice is in the product now? Just 5%, according to the website. 

SunnyD is basically sugar water

Besides the 5% juice, a peek at the nutrition label on the SunnyD website will tell you that the drink is loaded with sugar. With a whopping 14 grams of sugar per 8 ounces, a glass of the stuff rakes in 24% of the recommended daily value of sugar. The website also lists the available sizes for containers of SunnyD, with the largest being 128 ounces. It's unlikely that most people would drink an entire gallon of SunnyD at once, but if they did, they'd be consuming a staggering 224 grams of sugar, more than four days' worth of the recommended intake. (Plus, you know, the added risk of turning yellow.)

Ultimately, the ingredients in SunnyD resemble most types of soda more than actual orange juice, with the first two ingredients being water and high fructose corn syrup. The ingredients list "less than 2%" of orange, tangerine, apple, lime, grapefruit, and pear juice concentrates, as well as a range of coloring agents. Though a serving does contain all of your daily vitamin C, as Mental Floss points out, the sugar content makes this benefit negligible. If genuine juice is what you're after, you're better off grabbing an orange and getting to squeezing.