Beverage R&D: Health concerns, marketing keep superfruits top of mind
“Antioxidants are high among the attributes consumers are looking for in superfruits,” says Tom Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. “Although the term ‘superfruit’ has not been strictly defined by any regulatory body, it has been used to describe fruits, which 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.”
Superfruits contain a variety of phytonutrients. Many contain high amounts of flavonoids, such as anthocyanins, which give fruits, such as blueberries, their deep color and also provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, Payne says.
But superfruits have more than antioxidants and other healthful attributes on their side.
“Everywhere you turn you’ve got more press of some type or another relative to antioxidants and their benefits,” says Walter Postelwait, vice president of marketing and sales at BI Nutraceuticals, Long Beach, Calif. “Obviously, the press is helping fuel the consumers’ passion for it.”
In addition, more consumers are becoming aware of superfruits’ health benefits because of the marketing efforts of their makers.
“Frankly, I believe marketing people have done a very good job in defining ‘superfruits,’ although it’s a vague terminology,” says Ratan Chaudhuri, New Brunkswick, N.J.-based Natreon Inc.’s technical advisor.
Using the word “superfruits” as an effective marketing tool also has directed consumers’ attention to ingredients they might not have noticed otherwise, Payne says.
ORAC value has become another buzzword marketers are focusing on, but the number of antioxidants in the superfruit does not tell the whole nutritious value of it, Chaudhuri says. Marketers need to promote what health benefits the antioxidants in their superfruits are capable of achieving, he says. For example, Natreon developed Capros, a standardized extract of Indian gooseberry high in broad-spectrum antioxidant activity.
“Most marketers of superfruits seem to rely exclusively on ORAC scores for marketing purposes as a measure of a superfruit’s antioxidant value and therefore health benefits,” says Bruce Abedon, director of scientific affairs at Nutragenesis, Brattleboro, Vt. “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.”
Superfruits are fruits having antioxidant qualities, exceptional health benefits and oftentimes novel taste, says Kasi Sundaresan, scientific and quality specialist at iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J. “For example, a fruit like acerola or camu camu is a superfruit because of exceptionally high vitamin C values,” she says. iTi Tropicals supplies acai, mangosteen, camu camu, acerola, dragon fruit (lo han guo), mango and guava for use in beverage formulations.
Consumers continue to buy superfruit products because they perceive them as offering cellular protection, anti-aging benefits, anti-inflammatory qualities, cardiovascular health, digestive health, blood sugar balance, weight management and immunity benefits, Abedon says. Nutragenesis markets Wellberry, a powder raw material ingredient formulated with an extract of Indian gooseberry. Indian gooseberry has a long history of human use and is revered for its adaptogenic properties, Abedon says.
The general demographic shift of the population is helping to aid superfruits’ popularity as well.
“The majority of the population is getting older, and aging and the absorption of free radicals, leads people to at least the thought of consuming something that is either going to A, help you with the toxins you’re exposed to or B, going to help your body regenerate and help you with anti-aging,” Postelwait says. BI Nutraceuticals offers extracts of acai, cranberry, blueberry, bilberry, pomegranate, acerola and a few Asian fruits such as dragon fruit.
Pomegranate, blueberry, cranberry, acai, goji and noni commonly are referred to as superfruits, and all are popular in the beverage category. While consumers are becoming more accustomed to the flavors of superfruits, many still have a distinct taste that can be bitter.
“At the end of the day, especially for beverage, it’s got to taste good,” Postelwait says. “If it tastes bitter, they are not going to consume it no matter how good it is for them.”
Innovative use of flavors, flavor maskers and colors can enhance superfruits’ appeal to consumers.
“Superfruits have a novel taste, and it is often very successful with people who are looking for something different and new,” Sundaresan says. “Beverage formulators are using superfruits with familiar fruits in the market to help deliver the superfruits in a way that the consumer is accustomed to.”
Beverage formulators often mix traditional juices, such as apple and pear, with superfruits so that the flavor of the superfruit is diluted, Abedon says.
“If the superfruit is bitter tasting, bitter masks, having a sugar or malto-dextrin base, can be added to reduce the bitterness,” he says. “Often, flavors from flavor houses are also added to superfruit beverages to make them more palatable.”
The use of blueberries has been growing in popularity in beverages because of their healthful properties and familiar taste, Payne says. Consumers equate blueberries with antioxidants, trust blueberries as a familiar fruit and accept the berry in almost any product, he says. “Food designers and formulators know they can put blueberries on the label and take advantage of the image of blueberries as a healthy, delicious fruit full of natural goodness,” Payne says.
Going forward, superfruits appear to have a bright future because of the continuing health and wellness movement and the growing number of people seeking anti-aging products.
In addition, more consumers are looking for products that are all natural and healthy, Sundaresan says. “Superfruits are jam packed with nutrients and are all natural,” she says. “2009 was an excellent year for superfruits. The superfruit trend is here to stay as health and wellness is the top trend currently.”
Greater proliferation of superfruits across more beverage categories is expected as well.
“As functional beverages become more popular, I think it’s just going to continue to push these superfruits across multiple categories,” Postelwait says.
While beverage-makers continue to search for the next new healthful superfruit to appeal to consumers, the population is not only looking for new varieties, but also proven “super” options.
“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,” Payne says. “Food journalists and health professionals advocating sensible, uncomplicated eating habits and solid nutrition are finding a ready audience in consumers weary of conflicting health claims and nouveau ingredients touting benefits without reliable and valid evidence to back up their claims.”
Valid evidence also will be needed to help one superfruit beverage standout from another.
“If we want to continue to use this terminology of ‘superfruits,’ a time will come when you have to differentiate, and that differentiation will be coming from solid science and clinical trial,” Natreon’s Chaudhuri says. BI
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