January 9, 2006
Marketing Wellness: Fruit in the Food and Beverage Industry
Fruit has a bright future in the functional foods sector asconsumers look to obtain health benefits in a natural way.
by Julian Mellentin
Marketing the intrinsic healthfulness of foods couldbecome the guiding strategy for food producers everywhere; and no one stands tobenefit from it more than producers of fruit and companies that intend to makefruit a significant ingredient and/or marketing proposition within theirproducts.
If you are in the business of whole fruit, fruit beverages orfruit ingredients you can look forward to a bright future, propelled by thewellness trend. Fruit, it seems, may turn out to be the future of functionalfood. More than any other food type, fruit has a halo of health. It is ahalo thats being made brighter all the time as a steady stream of news aboutfruits benefits, such as fiber and antioxidants, makes its way into a mediaeager for simple, positive stories about healthy eating. Whats more, thesweetness of fruits, as well as their taste, texture and portability, makes themmuch more appealing to consumers than almost any other food as an all-naturalway to eat more healthily. What we are witnessing in the market-place is aremarkable growth in consumer interest in intrinsically healthy whole fruit andfruit juices and a perception that foods containing fruitsnack bars andbreakfast cereals for exampleare somehow healthier.
Look around at the success stories in the global business andit quickly becomes apparent that most of these stories involve beverages, whichhave the edge in terms of perceived convenience benefits. As a result, it isntsurprising that it is in beverages, rather than whole fruit, that demand forproducts based on healthy fruit is strongest.Pom Wonderful, which has come fromnowhere to be a $60 million brand in an astonishingly short time, is a model ofhow to take new fruit benefits to market. The success of this product is simplythat the company marketing it is not science-led but brand-led. Pom Wonderfulcombines innovative packaging, clever merchandising and delicious taste todeliver a health benefit, but one that is communicated softly.
The success of pomegranatewhich is now being initiated byother new fruit, such as the Brazilian açai berrysuggests we are justat the beginning of a period in which fruit products might be about to rivaldairy products as the drivers of innovation and sales growth in the globalnutrition business.
The growing interest in fruit is partly an indication that themost commonly adopted worldwide strategy in the food industry today and onethat is the least risky and is proving successful for an increasing number offoodstuffsis marketing intrinsic healthfulness. The rapid evolution of nutrition over the last decade hasrevealed the intrinsic health benefits of many components of the diet, and thesehave been turned into marketing messages. One of the best examples of the powerof this strategy is cranberry juice, which has seen its sales rise by hundredsof percent since 1994, when the link between cranberries and their intrinsicability to reduce incidence of urinary tract infection (UTI) was firstestablished.
The strategy of selling the whole fruitnatural andunprocessedto consumers. In the case of fruit, its a strategy that has sofar been successful for blueberries, whose size, taste and resilience makes thenan easy snack product or dessert. But to have any effect, this communicationseffort needs to be serious and backed by sufficient investment. It is not aone-time effort and it wont yield quick results; it requires a consistent,year-in, year-out commitment to building a longterm health halo for your fruit.
The combination of extreme convenience and health is apersuasive selling message. This is nowhere more evident than in the case offruit drinks and smoothies, which are increasingly positioned as delivering oneor more of the recommended five servings a day of fruit and vegetables providingall of the benefitsand tasteof fruit with none of the mess andinconvenience. To illustrate the point, beverages are perhaps thefastest-growing segment for integrating blueberries into new formulas. In thefirst six months of 2005, a dozen new blueberry-juice products hit the market inthe United States alone, and all were reported to be getting significanttraction.
Some fruits, such as the blueberries, have characteristicsthat luckily for their growersmake them very suitable as ingredients intheir natural state for inclusion in snack bars, muffins and breakfastcereals. But the majority of fruit processors must focus hard ontechnical and application developments to find ways to make their fruittechnically competitive for use as ingredients in other processed foods.Thisstrategy has proven effective for Ocean Spray, which has successfully developedways of making cranberries a value-adding ingredient in an everincreasing rangeof applications.
One area of interest to researchers is breeding varieties thathave higher levels of naturally occurring bioactives than are found incommercially available fruit varieties. An example is the high antioxidantblueberryone that delivers a much bigger dose of antioxidants thanconventional blueberries. The aim of such developments is to create a fruit thatis truly differentiated and hopefully commands better pricing and more addedvalue in the marketplace. The reality is that (to our knowledge) no one has yetmanaged to successfully achieve such differentiation. Value-added is created notjust by additional health benefits (a common misapprehension in the nutritionbusiness) but by strategic marketing. The challenge of communicating enhancedhealth benefits is difficult enough for fruits bred in a conventional manner.For genetically-modified (GM) crops, the challenge of communication is a wholeorder of magnitude higher. In most countries, consumer acceptance of GM foods isstill lowand putting aside any arguments over the merits of GM, marketingenhanced health benefits from a GM source would be creating a huge challengethat no sensible, profitconscious company should take.
For sales of any fruit to grow, consumer awareness of itshealth benefits must grow; this simply cannot be achieved without investment inconsumer education and knowledge building. Having benefits proven by science isnot enough, as there has to be an effort to make those benefits easy tounderstand and to interest the media in discussing them.
In all cases it also helps if a health benefit can be clearlyconnected to existing consumer beliefs and knowledge. Pom Wonderful, forexample, has benefited from consumers becoming significantly conscious of theoverall nutritional and medical benefits of antioxidants, affirming theimportance of the substances in consumers minds. It is the health halo thatmatters, not the health claim. People make healthy food choices based oninformation from a variety of sources beyond just a health claim. A claim, ifgranted, should only be used as one small part of a comprehensive communicationsstrategy, and spending time and money seeking health claims is not the bestinvestments for any business.
Julian Mellentin is the director of The Centre for Food &Health Studies, a company that has provided research, analysis and forecastingof the global nutrition business since 1995. Mellentin is also the editor of
NewNutrition Business, a long-established internationaljournal on the global nutrition business (www.new-nutrition.com). This articleexcerpted with permission from the new report Superfruit.
You May Also Like