Marketing Superfruits

Superfruits push their way into mainstream markets.

The rise of the superfruit has been increasingly evidenced over the past decade. Growing consumer awareness of the health benefits associated with superfruits’ high antioxidant content helped to drive activity, particularly since the mid 2000s. This has brought many hitherto little-known fruits into the mainstream market for the first time, with growing use as ingredients and flavorings in a wide range of food and drink products.

Innova Market Insights recorded a 10% rise in the number of product launches marketed on a superfruit platform in the 12-month period ending May 2011. The soft drinks category saw the greatest number of launches, equivalent to nearly 40% of the total, primarily in the fruit drinks and wellness drinks arenas. But there were products with “superfruit” ingredients launched across most other sectors, led by confectionery, dairy products, fruit and vegetable products, and desserts and ice cream.

In terms of types of fruit, pomegranate appears to have emerged as the leader, accounting for over 40% of the launches tracked containing a “superfruit” during the June 2010 to May 2011 period. The United States dominated in terms of the application of pomegranate in new products. But other fruits are also continuing to grow in popularity, including acai, goji, and other berries.

Changing interest in different fruit types can also be seen from a review of activity on the Innova Database, particularly in terms of regional differences. Japan tends to lead in terms of innovation, and superfruit use is no exception. While pomegranate first emerged as a more niche ingredient in Japan, it is now relatively standard there, and new product activity is tending to focus on other fruits. A review of launches containing superfruits over the past few months shows that emphasis was on lychee and acerola, ahead of dragonfruit and pomegranate. A recent introduction is Fruta Fruta Acai Beauty Rose Hip & Acerola, a smoothie juice drink with acai, rose hips, and acerola flavor, in a cardboard cup with straw.

In the United States, on the other hand, Innova Market Insights recorded highest levels of product activity in pomegranate, ahead of blueberry, although interest in acerola also appeared to be increasing, and there was ongoing interest in goji. Moving across the Atlantic, UK launches were focused strongly on pomegranate and berries, particularly cranberries, blueberries, and acai, while Germany has seen rising levels of interest in sea buckthorn.

Meanwhile, new fruits are emerging on the “superfruit” bandwagon, all focusing on high levels of antioxidants. These are often compared with levels in more-established superfruits, and often move into food and drinks following a period of launches in supplement form, both in capsules and drinks. The maqui berry from Chile, also known as the Chilean Wineberry, is one example of this trend. It began appearing in supplement products starting in the United States and then in Europe from about 2009, initially as capsules and sometimes in combination with other ingredients; then as supplement-style drinks or bars; and finally in more mainstream soft drinks, as exemplified by the maqui berry’s use in Honest Tea drinks in the United States starting in 2010. Maqui first appeared in Honest Tea’s Kombucha Maqui Berry Grapefruit Tea and, more recently, was a named ingredient in the brand’s Passion Fruit Green Tea. It remains to be seen how far maqui’s use will extend in the mainstream, but use by Honest Tea, a Coca-Cola subsidiary, seems to indicate a strong start.

Apart from clear “antioxidant” content promotion, superfruits are turning up in new applications purely for their flavor. The trend has quickened, to the extent that even the “gourmet jelly bean” company Jelly Belly has introduced a Superfruit Mix Jelly Bean in the United States. The product contains superfruits acai berry, barbados cherry, blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate. It is promoted as containing 100% natural flavors and colors from natural sources, and even as “high in antioxidant vitamin C.” Another launch by a major brand featuring the word “superfruit” comes from Unilever (The Netherlands), which now offers Lipton Ice Tea with Superfruit Cranberry flavor. The product does not feature any additional health claims, bar Unilever’s “My Choice” logo. Another new U.S. launch is Daily’s Ready-to-Drink Naturally Flavored Frozen Pomegranate Acai Margarita to allow for the creation of “no-hassle frozen pomegranate acai margaritas that taste like they’re just out of the blender.”

With so many different types of tropical and exotic fruits, many of which are grown in relatively small quantities, it is difficult to predict where the new success stories in superfruits will come from. What is almost inescapable, however, is that there will continue to be new varieties put forward as the market develops, and these will have to compete alongside more-established and familiar varieties. The ability to supply the quantities needed and to market their multiple benefits successfully will be key to superfruits’ future-as well as the willingness of mainstream food and drinks companies to take them up as ingredients in their products.