In Response: Superfruit Staying Power

December 1, 2010

Interest has endured as consumers get to know these fruits.

Superfruits are a flourishing industry sector that has maintained a growing consumer following. While interest was once sparked by superfruits’ novelty factor-what seemed like a fountain of health emerging from the world’s rainforests-interest has endured as consumers get to know these fruits.

Rich in antioxidants and other nutrients, berries promise an array of health benefits. Today, more-familiar fruits such as blueberries, cranberries, and blackcurrants are vying for superfruit status. Anthocyanin- and flavanol-rich blueberries may protect the muscles from oxidative stress and improve brain function. The protective link between cranberries and urinary tract health due to cranberries’ proanthocyanidin content may now extend to male prostate health. Cranberries also offer promising results in alleviating heart disease by promoting good blood flow in the arteries.

However, the big five in terms of superfruit market share continues to be acai, mangosteen, pomegranate, goji, and noni. With their exotic-sounding names and equally exotic origins, these superfruits have captured a lucrative share of the supplement and functional food markets. New acai products continue to launch, with acai starring in everything from candy and health food bars to cosmetics and pet food.

Despite the dominance of acai, food innovators continue to actively seek out other emerging superfruits, making way for fruits like yumberry, cili, lucuma, and dragonfruit in recent years, all combining exotic flavors and great health benefits.

The past year has seen maqui rise in prominence in the superfruit arena, with many new product launches and marketing promotions. Maqui has traditionally been used by the Mapuche Indians of South America to promote strength, endurance, and overall health, and may also provide valuable benefits for the immune system. Demand for maqui is strong due to its very high levels of antioxidants, including anthocyanins, delphinidin, malvidin, petunidin, cumarins, triterpenes, flavonoids, and cyanidin.

Consumer interest appears to be driven by a variety of factors. New studies on antioxidants emerge weekly, and consumers are responding by seeking out more antioxidant-rich foods-including superfruits. Antioxidants are particularly attractive to an aging population that is increasingly seeking assistance in maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. Antioxidants are known to support the body’s immune system, promote healthy cellular tissue growth, and improve the body’s appearance, among other benefits.

Another contributing factor to ongoing superfruit popularity is the movement to “go natural.” Consumers are increasingly wary of synthetic ingredients and are demanding naturally sourced nutrients instead. Superfruits are seen as a healthy indulgence, combining luscious flavor with high nutritional value.

While superfruits in and of themselves have a rich history and marketing story to tell, superfruit science is still relatively new. Studies providing conclusive scientific evidence of superfruits’ health benefits and action in the human body are still being conducted. As a result, marketers and consumers have come to rely on ORAC values (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) to judge the potential antioxidant value between superfruits.

While ORAC values give consumers some means to make a comparison between superfruits, they don’t give any verifiable information about what effects superfruit phytochemicals have in the body. However, until more of these vital studies are conducted to determine superfruits’ effects in the body, marketers and consumers will continue to rely on ORAC values, along with facts about traditional uses and anecdotal evidence, to sell superfruits.

Looking forward, the popularity of superfruits looks set to increase as superfruits are seen as a convenient, effective way to make up for nutrition deficits in the modern diet. And consumer interest and knowledge of these fruits may be spreading to other produce categories as well. At NP Nutra, we are seeing increasing demand for products featuring vegetables such as broccoli, spirulina, chlorella, beets, bitter melon, and spinach.

Spirulina, for example, contains a staggering array of essential nutrients, with over 60% complete protein and high concentrations of many other important vitamins and minerals such as B complex vitamins, vitamin E, carotenoids, manganese, zinc, essential fatty acids such as gamma linolenic acid, and more beta-carotene than you can find in carrots. Beets are also gaining attention, with new research showing that the nitrates in beets offer benefits such as increased endurance and lowered blood pressure. The nitrates in beets can make exercise less tiring by reducing the amount of oxygen the body needs to use. Bitter melon has exciting potential for managing blood sugar and has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, promote insulin release, and enhance cells’ uptake of glucose.

Could “superveggies” be the next superstars?