The Budding Market of Superfruits

Alissa Marrapodi

March 9, 2010

12 Min Read
The Budding Market of Superfruits

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, its 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 superits 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). Acai 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 salesan 8.9-percent and 12.9 percent decrease, respectivelyfrom $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. Its 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. Thats 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 Neumans 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 sealThe Real Blueberry Sealto 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, he 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 its an optimal mix of natural fruit compoundsnutrient and phytochemicalsthat should be in everyones diet, Gross said.

The subjective and oftentimes nebulous definition of superfruits is derived from a multitude of sources, including nutrient content, origin, ORAC scores and scientific research. [A superfruit is] an exotic fruit high in supposed health benefits, particularly antioxidant value, said Bruce Abedon, Ph.D., director of scientific affairs, Nutragenesis LLC. However, most marketers of superfruits seem to rely exclusively on ORAC scores for marketing purposes. This in-vitro test has no confirmed relationship to human health so it can be misleading when used to validate health claims for most scientifically ignorant consumers.
Janet Hoffman, marketing director, NP Nutra, said exotic fruits from Brazil or Thailand were mainly thought of as superfruits, but now locally grown fruits are demanding attention. More recently, domestic growers and sellers of fruits such as blueberries, cranberries and cherries have argued they should also be considered superfruits due to their high-nutrient content, he said.
Stefan Wypyszyk, senior business development manager, Stiebs, has watched the term change from an antioxidant-based claim to a science-based claim. Originally, the term superfruit was created as a way to differentiate fruit-based antioxidants from other antioxidants, he said. In most cases, it had more to do with a fruit being exotic and new to the U.S. market than it did with the science behind it. Now that the market has been saturated with exotic fruits, the focus is shifting more toward the science behind the fruit and the claims being made.

Sowing and Reaping

What makes any claim in the natural products industry worthy and substantiated is research. Research, research, research. The more research, the more substantiated claims, the more consumer trust gained. Every fruits claim to fame in the evolving category of superfruits should have scientific backing.
I met with Dr. David Katz recently of Yale School of Public Health, attempting to minimize any confusion I might create when marketing my new CHARMAVI brand of organic sea buckthorn berry juice, Neuman said. He warned me to make claims that I could clearly and convincingly support with solid research, and in humans, not just animal studies. He felt it was not in the best interest of the manufacturer to exaggerate claims, which I agree with. Stick to the facts. Neuman also addressed the issue of product testing. When a product is tested at a lab by a manufacturer, the lab doesnt care what sample you submit. Therefore, a manufacturer can select the very best part of a given harvest to test, perhaps the newest fruit, and end up with amazing numbers, but is that test really representative of the full lot?
Payne noted companies are still seeking to promote whats new. The search in the jungle and rainforest for the next new selling point is reminiscent of the 16th century search for the Fountain of Youth in Ponce de Leons day, he said. Ironically, some of the superfruits that are eagerly incorporated into the food supply are not well known or well studied in the western world, and the very definition of a fruit becomes confusing: is the skin of a date palm a fruit; or how about the flesh of a gourd?
Supporting research is always important and helps to pinpoint the particular phenolic benefit with a health problem, said James M. Degen CMC, J. M. Degen & Co. Inc. When there is a dominant supplier of a fruit or vegetable, the research is focused on emphasizing the brand. When an industry is affected by the research, it is usually funded by a commodity board. In the case of dried plums, much of the supporting research has been funded by the California Dried Plum Board, and most recently focused on the ability of dried plums to impact women's and men's bone health. A similar situation is the blueberry industry. But the California Dried Plum Board approached marketing as a superfruit ingredient a little differently. Virtually all superfruit ingredients promote their antioxidant activity on packages hoping to encourage purchase. Dried plums, however, emphasize to food designers the value of dried plums' antioxidants is more functional, leads to extended food product shelf life, and can serve as an antimicrobial agent, particularly in animal proteins. More importantly, the antioxidant activity of dried plums works in concert with other benefits, such as moisture retention (due to high levels of fiber and sorbitol in dried plums) and flavor improvement (due to malic acid) to yield functional benefits derived from natural ingredients. Much of the ingredient research the board has conducted in support of these multifunctional claims has focused on dried plums being a complete superfruit with more than just antioxidant benefits.

Research on exotics is new, and there is much more to come. The body of science for acai and goji berries is relatively new, said Matt Phillips, president, Cyvex Nutrition Inc. These superfruits have only been in the marketplace for around five years or so. The science is there to back up claims made for these ingredients, and I think we will continue to see investment in the science for substantiation. Phillips also noted the research on fruits, such as strawberries, is also relatively new. We recently partnered with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, who has done and is in the midst of conducting some interesting work with fisetin, a flavonoid found in strawberries.
NutraGenesis LLC recently released a study on its GRAS-affirmed nutraceutical ingredient Wellberry, stating it boosts the antioxidant value when added to commercially available fruit juice, vegetable juice and green tea beverages. The study, performed at an independent lab, determined the antioxidant levels of apple juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, tomato juice and green tea. Antioxidant levels were also determined after 100 mg or 200 mg of Wellberry was added to 8 fl. oz. of each juice. According to the company, Wellberry boosted the antioxidant levels of the beverages from 1.8 to 5 times for the 100-mg dosage and from 2.4 to 10 times for the 200-mg dosage.
P.L. Thomas Xanthigen®, a novel, patent-pending, composition of pomegranate oil standardized for punicic acid and brown seaweed extract standardized for fucoxanthin, promoted weight loss, reduced body and liver fat content and improved liver function tests in obese non-diabetic women (Diabetes Obes Metab. 2010;12:7281).
In a clinical pharmacokinetic trial, POMELLA® extract (from Verdure Sciences), standardized to Ellagitannins punicalagins, delivered absorbable ellagic acid (EA) and other metabolites to cause antioxidant effects, demonstrating the absorbability of EA from a pomegranate extract high in ellagitannin content and also its ex vivo antioxidant effects(J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54(23):8956-61). And a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study published Phytotherapy Research found mouth rinsing with POMELLA may affect markers of oral and dental health (2009;23(8):1123-11273)

 Avoid fruits and nuts. You are what you eat. Jim Davis, Garfield


Nutricosmetics is an evolving beauty category based on beauty from within, and skin care application through ingestion versus topical, and superfruits are part of this recipe for beauty. In addition to beauty foods and beverages, personal care formulators are lauding superfruits for their benefits on skin, due heavily to their antioxidant content. Antioxidants have the ability to counteract skins age damage caused by free radicals, said Linda Miles L. Ac., D.O.M., vice president of derma e® Natural Bodycare. Derma e uses several superfruits based off their research, such as pomegranate, which contains anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits to help prevent fine lines, firm the skins epidermis and reduce free radical damage; and grape seed oils, which moisturize and help improve photo-aged skin.
Jeanette Jacknin, M.D., a board-certified and licensed dermatologist, confirmed the use of superfruits as a welcomed inclusion in personal care products. A study conducted on acerola fruit extract found it significantly lightened the UVB-irradiated skin pigmentation of brown guinea pigs (Biotechnol Biochem. 2008;72(12)3211-8). Jacknin touted buriti oil as an excellent source of oleic and essential fatty acids (EFAs), noting a 2009 study that found it possesses a naturally occurring SPF that filters and absorbs UV rays, helping to prevent UV-induced skin cancer.
The demand for superfruits in skin care is growing because of the vast amounts of research being conducted on superfruits and the medias frequent dissemination of information on these ingredients and their benefits, Miles said.

Fruit Forward

The evolution of superfruits sets the stage for whats to come. They have a lot of room to grow, but the demand is there. When you peel back the skin, this market is sprouting, and will continue to develop in research, application and consumer awareness. The superfruit industry is young and needs to grow in order to find its true potential, said Sonya Cropper, vice president of marketing, Verdure Sciences. However, as within all industries, the need for marketing compliance is required and any new product or fruit should be scrutinized and held to the same high standards as established ingredients/fruits, including sustainable harvesting, identifiable and researched phytochemical profile testing, and quality assurance compliance.
That can take some time with new offerings.  Currently, the trend is to be the new kid on the block with a polyphenol, ORAC, TEAC, FRAP or TRAP score thats higher or a claim to be the king of antioxidants, Wypyszyk said. In the future, marketing of superfruits will move toward identifying the composition of the ingredient, its mode of action, and conducting clinical studies for specific health claims. The limiting factor will be cost. To fully investigate a superfruit, you need to invest millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars, and many companies just do not have these resources. As a result, most likely only those superfruits that can successfully cross over to the food and beverage side of the business can generate enough sales volume to allow companies to fund this type of in-depth research.  

Editors Note: INSIDERs Market Insight section is designed to give a broad overview of marketing and sales trends, and select hot ingredients, in a particular category. For more comprehensive information on related health conditions or ingredients, click on on the navigation tabs near the top of the page.

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