The Budding Market of Superfruits
By: Alissa Marrapodi, Associate Editor (3/9/2010)
“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?” —Albert Einstein
If there is a term begging for ubiquity in the marketplace, it’s superfruit. Exotics and everyday fruits are flooding ingredient labels and product claims, making the term “superfruit” pervasive in supplements, functional foods and beverages, as well as personal care products.
The burgeoning market of superfruits is taking flight and doing more than just super—it’s making a dent, swarming the marketplace health claims and catchy ingredient phrases that consumers are looking for (e.g., fiber, probiotics, antioxidants, etc.).
“In the past few years, the word superfruit has blared into the headlines with alluring fanfare,” said Paul Gross, Ph.D., in his book “Superfruits.” “What began as just a few curious exotic juices in the American market has now evolved into thousands of products in a multibillion-dollar global industry.”
SPINS reported the superfruit category in both the conventional and natural channels experienced a 15.7-percent increase from 2008 to 2009, increasing from $252,062,661 to $291,615,033 (52 weeks ending Jan. 23, 2010). Açaí saw the largest increase in sales from 2008 to 2009, with a 30.5-percent increase, topping out at $168,875,352. And, pomegranate and mangosteen experienced the largest drop in sales—an 8.9-percent and 12.9 percent decrease, respectively—from $69,447,446 in 2008 to $63,247,643 in 2009, and from $4,130,792 in 2008 to $3,598,155 in 2009, respectively.
Dean Mosca, president of Proprietary Nutritionals Inc., said the company has experienced steady growth in the last year. “Our Berry-Max line, anchored by Cran-Max®, has seen more sales to a variety of dietary supplement manufacturers who are formulating a variety of antioxidant complexes, as well as using the ingredients for condition-specific supplements,” he said. “It’s a very steady market pace right now and we are confident that sales will sustain well at least for the next year.”
What is a Superfruit?
The tricky thing about superfruits is everyone has their own definition as to what makes up a “superfruit.” David Neuman, president, Meaningful Foods, commented: “I believe this term has been used and abused widely over the last few years. I have seen breakfast cereals touting the use of ‘superfruits,’ but you would have to consume a truckload to gain any benefit from the superfruit component. That’s simply marketing. Clearly superfruits are meant to be the fruit of plant species that have a complex and valuable array of micro- and macro-nutrients available in a singular whole-food form that provides some health benefit to the consumer. Ideally, a standard would be met to qualify a fruit as a ‘superfruit.’ I hope one day this is somehow regulated to minimize confusion to the general public who are fairly naïve.”
Tom Payne, industry consultant for the U. S. Highbush Blueberry Council, echoed Neuman’s thoughts, stating: “The term superfruit, like the term Super Bowl, has proved an effective marketing tool. It has directed consumers’ attention to ingredients that they might never have noticed otherwise. Although the term ‘superfruit’ has not been strictly defined by any regulatory body, it has been used to describe fruits that are exceptionally rich in nutrients, primarily antioxidants, and can provide potential health benefits such as preventing the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease.” The highbush blueberry industry developed a seal—The Real Blueberry Seal™—to help food producers incorporate real blueberries into their products, which in turn helps buyers and consumers identify real blueberry products.
Clearly there is some frustration with the marketing of superfruits. Kasi Sundaresan, Ph.D., scientific and quality specialist, iTi Tropicals Inc., cautioned product developers to tread lightly when making superfruit claims. “Because the term superfruit is not legally defined, there are no boundaries in how food companies can exploit the term on foods and beverages,” she said. “For example, a mango-flavored drink contains none of the superfruit benefits one might consume in a mango smoothie. The current superfruit marketing is misleading and is inaccurate. There are no guidelines for superfruit inclusion in foods and beverages. It is causing a negative effect as more consumers think products containing superfruits can make them healthly, and delay aging. The product developers should be careful while making claims and should only include the claims based on sound research.”
In his book, Gross named 20 fruits as “super” based on a criterion consisting of five factors: nutrient diversity and density, phytochemical diversity and density, basic research intensity, clinical research progress, and popularity based on sensory appeal and market demand. “So, what is it that sets superfruits apart from regular fruits and currently marketed superfruit juices? I believe it’s an optimal mix of natural fruit compounds—nutrient and phytochemicals—that should be in everyone’s diet,” Gross said.