What’s New in Superfruits: Jackfruit, Baobab, Graviola, and Dragonfruit

Jul 19, 2017

  • The superfruit category continues to evolve. Resilient long-term players (pomegranate, blueberries, acai) are maintaining their momentum among health-conscious consumers, while “rediscovered,” cleverly branded tropical and desert fruits (jackfruit, baobab, and dragonfruit) join the superfruit team. Superfruits like jackfruit and dragonfruit are emerging as new stars, appearing in products ranging from ready-to-drink beverages to meat alternatives to frozen-smoothie bases to candies to dietary supplements. (Graviola, another fruit, is also trending, although it’s important to point out that there are significant safety concerns regarding its use, to be discussed later.)

    While growth trends for these four superfruits—jackfruit, baobab, dragonfruit, and graviola (viewed together as one segment)—may have varied over time, in 2011-2016 “dollar sales of this segment have almost doubled, reaching $27 million, up 11% in 2016 versus prior year,” according to IRI’s Total Multi-Outlet calculations, explains IRI client-insights consultant and corporate analyst Christine Nollas. Year-to-date sales (through May 14, 2017) have already reached $10.5 million, Nollas adds.

    Beverages (waters, juices, teas, nectars, sodas) have been key to this growth, Nollas says, “reporting 85% share in 2016.” But, she says, as new entries into different categories have emerged, “beverages’ share of the segment has declined from 2011.” She adds that frozen foods (including desserts and dinners) is the second-largest category of importance to this segment, while year-over-year 2016 dollar growth of the segment was strongest in health categories. “Refrigerated foods and general foods reported significant growth as well,” she says.

    The following four slides provide a closer look at nutrition profiles and product trends for jackfruit, baobab, dragonfruit (pitaya), and graviola (guanabana).


    Photo © Shutterstock.com/Quanthem

  • Jackfruit
    Jackfruit, a huge tree-borne fruit that grows plentifully in such Southeast Asian countries as India and Bangladesh, has seen a steep uptick in popularity in North America in recent months. This superfruit is rich in potassium, calcium, and B vitamins, and can be enjoyed as a savory food (when unripe) and as a sweet food (when ripe).

    SPINS senior nutrition researcher Kimberly Kawa says that jackfruit “is by far seeing the most growth in refrigerated meatless chunks and strips, in the meat-alternatives segment.” SPINS data shows a stunning estimated sales-growth rate of 355% for jackfruit in that segment over the prior 52 weeks ending April 16, 2017.

    “From what I’ve observed, jackfruit meat alternatives have garnered wider distribution,” says Kawa, “and consumers’ interest in plant-based, or flexitarian, diets has further spurred the fruit’s continued success.” One Chicago-based retail brand, Upton’s Naturals, sells young jackfruit packaged in various flavors, including barbecue and “chili lime carnitas,” for use as a shredded-meat substitute. The brand recently expanded with two new flavors, Thai Curry and Original (unflavored).

    Kawa adds that jackfruit is also doing well in the dried-fruit category, up roughly 58%. In shelf-stable (canned) form, jackfruit sales are up about 62%. As for new product launches featuring jackfruit, those increased 76% globally in 2016 over the previous year, according to data provided by Innova Market Insights. Some of the newest products include Cokelattemon’s chocolate-coated jackfruit chips and Upton’s Naturals’ Thai Curry and Original flavors of unripe-jackfruit-based meat alternative.

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/siwaporn999

  • Baobab
    Baobab is the common name of a genus of fruit-bearing trees of which there are nine species. Six species are native to Madagascar, two to mainland Africa, and one to Australia. Dried baobab fruit powder contains a number of micronutrients, including riboflavin, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and phytosterols; its nutrition profile combined with its perception in North America and Europe as an interesting, more “exotic” fruit have propelled it to superfruit status.

    In January of this year, SPINS’s Paige Leyden, Natural Products Researcher, cited sales growth of 81% within the natural channel for the year ending December 25, 2016, over the previous 52 weeks. More recently, SPINS’s Kawa has seen “noteworthy growth of functional-ingredient baobab in SPINS data for the Vitamins and Supplements category, up approximately 471% on April 16, 2017 over the prior 52 weeks.”

    Found “across supplement and food/beverage categories such as food supplements, cold cereals, and more recently as a functional addition to wellness bars and candies,” according to SPINS information from earlier this year, the fruit saw 40% growth in new global product launches in 2016, according to Innova Market Insights data. Very newly launched baobab products include Roo Brands’ Roo Bar with baobab and ginger (Italy) and AMC’s Super Fruit juice containing baobab pulp (Slovenia).

    Keep an eye on baobab in beverages. Blogging in March of this year on market-research-firm Mintel’s website, Alex Beckett observed that baobab fruit is wending its way into such beverages as shakes and energy drinks. In 2011, he points out in his post, juice drinks made up a full 100% of baobab beverages. But just five years later, in 2016, juice accounted for only 63% of baobab drinks, “with other beverages, like meal-replacement shakes and powdered smoothie shakes, accounting for 23% of launches, and sports and energy drinks accounting for 13%.” This trend is likely to continue.

    Photo © Shutterstock.com/Schnapps2012

  • Dragonfruit
    Dragonfruit (or pitaya) is the fruit of various cactus species native to the Americas and grown in Southeast Asia, the United States, Israel, Australia, and other regions. Containing vitamin C, polyunsaturated fatty acids, B vitamins, and carotene, dragonfruit is showing up in frozen fruit-smoothie kits, in dried-fruit form, and in a variety of beverages, says SPINS’s Kawa. In beverages in particular, Kawa has observed its use in combination with refrigerated coconut water and in functional juices and beverages, enhanced or flavored sparkling water, isotonic sports beverages, ready-to-drink tea, “and even as a soda flavoring.”

    Globally, Innova Market Insights saw 27% growth in new dragonfruit product launches in 2016 over the previous year. Very recently, this past spring, Fruandes brand in Colombia introduced dark-chocolate-covered dried dragonfruit, and Kanro brand in Japan launched “Non-Sugar Red Pitaya Candy.”

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/StudioByTheSea

  • Graviola
    Graviola, also known as guanabana and soursop, is the fruit of a small, flowering evergreen tree native to tropical climates within the Americas and elsewhere. It contains significant quantities of vitamin C, folate, potassium, and fiber. According to SPINS’s Kawa, this superfruit is appearing in the supplement aisle in liquid, encapsulated, and tincture form. When marketed as guanabana, it increasingly appears in frozen fruits and frozen juice concentrates, and is showing up additionally in yogurts, wellness teas, herbal teas, shelf-stable juice nectars, enhanced waters, beverage syrups, and powdered drink mixes.

    Of the four superfruits profiled in this slideshow, graviola/guanabana had the highest growth in new global product launches in 2016—albeit from a small base in 2015—at 80%, according to Innova Market Insights. A new product for 2017 is Chiquita brand’s 100% Natural Guanabana Fruit Pulp, introduced in January in Panama.

    It should be noted, however, that some health experts point to significant health concerns regarding graviola’s use as a dietary supplement—namely, that chronic consumption of graviola fruit has been linked to development of atypical Parkinson’s disease.

    “The fruit contains significant quantities of isoquinoline derivatives known to be toxic to dopaminergic neurons that are inhibitors of the mitochondrial respiratory chain,” says Alexander G. Schauss, PhD, FACN, CFS, senior director of research and CEO, AIBMR Life Sciences Inc. (Seattle).

    A chapter on graviola points to these health concerns, published in the book Bioactive Foods in Promoting Health: Fruits and Vegetables. (This book was edited by Ronald Watson, PhD, professor of Health Promotion Sciences at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Victor Preedy BSc, PhD, DSc, FRSB, FRSPH, FRCPath, FRSC, a senior member of King's College London.) Schauss was one of the authors of the book’s graviola chapter.

    By inhibiting the mitochondrial respiratory chain, write the authors, graviola’s isoquinoline derivatives can impair energy production. “The significance of these findings relates to the abnormally high rate of atypical parkinsonism found on islands such as Guam in the Northern Mariana islands, New Caledonia, western New Guinea, the Kii peninsula of Japan, and the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, where epidemiological evidence suggests a close association of the disease with regular consumption of soursop fruit, infusions, and decoctions,” the authors write. “Given the amount of evidence showing a relationship between the acetogenins and atypical parkinsonism, chronic oral intake of the fruit, and the derivatives ingested that are produced from the plant, caution is warranted and further research encouraged. Should there be an increased risk of neurotoxicity associated with acetogenins with other plant toxins, it is important to determine what it is so that dietary advice can be given to minimize risk of neurodegenerative outcomes.”

    The authors add that when more people in New Guinea and Guam began adopting Western diets and “abandoning” native fruits like soursop, the result was a “virtual disappearance over the years of atypical parkinsonism.”

    People's attraction to graviola is twofold, Schauss adds. First, people are generally drawn to the “lemon meringue” flavor of the fruit. “The fruit tastes like lemon meringue pie, which explains why it was desired year round,” he says. “Previous to the introduction of refrigeration on the island, and the introduction of various other means of preservation (e.g., canning), the delicious fruit was only consumed when it was in season.” However, he says, once modern preservation techniques came into play, native populations were able to consume the fruit even during off seasons—which only increased the scope of its negative effects.

    Today, many consume graviola because they believe it treats cancer. “What is driving graviola is the claim that it may attenuate or treat a range of cancers,” Schauss says. “We’ve looked at the evidence and don’t find it compelling. Nevertheless, you understand how claims of this nature get around in this day and age of the Internet, urging people to try it. I’ve spoken to a few people whose response was, ‘I need to survive the cancer, then I can worry about Parkinson’s.’ What they fail to appreciate is that because it does taste so good, others will drink it potentially placing them as risk if consumed frequently over time.”

    Photo © iStockphoto.com/COLOA Studio