In recent years, consumers have embraced superfruits, such as pomegranate, acai, blueberry and cranberry, for their antioxidant content. However, certain cherry varietals also rank alongside the more renowned superfruits in terms of antioxidant content. Although the fruit has long been favored as a pie filling and ice cream sundae topper, cherry is still establishing itself as a beverage ingredient, but suppliers say that’s ripe for a change.
An already popular fruit and fruit flavor, Greg Kaiser, president of Encore Fruit Marketing, Bellingham, Wash., says cherry benefits from being easily recognized by consumers.
“The exotic fruits seem to be on the wane in the beverage market, and consumers are usually receptive to new products that are based around a familiar long-term fruit flavor, like cherry,” Kaiser says.
The Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI), Lansing, Mich., has been promoting the use of tart cherries in dried, frozen and juice forms, explains Jeff Manning, the institute’s chief marketing officer. In the campaign, CMI positioned tart cherries similar to a consumer brand. The institute highlights that tart cherries have been touted as an “it” ingredient by Everyday with Rachael Ray, Good Housekeeping and The Food Network Magazine.
Although tart cherry juice is available year-round, CMI reports the ingredient is underdeveloped relative to more mature segments like cranberry and pomegranate juice. In the last year, the institute has worked to increase the awareness and preference for tart cherry juice to unprecedented levels, Manning says. The institute’s proprietary research indicated that the greatest potential for cherry juice is in superfruit juices and smoothie blends, Manning says.
Tart cherry juice will add color, a unique flavor profile and antioxidants to a juice or juice drink, Manning explains. He adds that the juice blends well with milder juices, such as apple and pear.
“No other juice blends so perfectly, adding color and taste without overpowering the end product,” Manning says. “In fact, three-quarters of the best-selling new foods and beverages introduced in 2010 to 2011 claimed a new/unique flavor or recipe; 39 percent a distinctive new flavor, up to 24 percent over the previous 10 year average, making tart cherries — with their unique sweet-tart flavor profile — the new ‘sweet spot’ in beverage innovation.”
Jim Bryant, vice president of the ingredients division for Cherry Central Cooperative, Traverse City, Mich., credits CMI for its efforts with helping to raise the profile of tart cherries, also known as Montmorency variety cherries.
Ripe for applications
Cherry Central has received increased requests for new formats of cherries for food ingredients, Bryant says. Requests have expanded beyond the sweetened cherry ingredients popular for dessert-makers, he says, and for beverage-makers, Cherry Central offers tart cherry concentrate and tart cherry puree. Bryant adds that some formulators are using the company’s dried cherries in beverages, clarifying that he’s not sure how. In addition, the company also provides custom ingredients.
“There’s probably not a week that goes by that we don’t see a request for cherries in a slightly different format than what we’re doing now,” Bryant says. “Some of that can be easily remedied and some of it takes a little time and money, but all in all the industry is willing to spend the time and money to get there.”
The company works with beverage-makers to create an ingredient suitable for a specific application, Bryant says.
“Companies will have their R&D people out looking for cherries and they come to us and maybe they don’t want just the standard concentrate, the standard puree or dried cherries, they want that product, if you will, tweaked a little bit for their particular application,” he explains. “That’s where we get involved, trying to process something that makes sense for them and their application.”
Cherry supplier, Encore Fruit Marketing offers dark sweet cherry juice concentrates, which are made from the familiar fresh market sweet cherries, and red sour pie cherry juice concentrate that is derived from pie-type sour cherries, Kaiser says. The company can offer customers example formulas to use in the development of proprietary cherry juice-based beverages or arrange custom development of a blended cherry beverage that is ready for bottling, he says.
Tree Top Inc., Selah, Wash., offers dark sweet cherry juice concentrate, red sour cherry puree, concentrated red sour cherry puree and frozen cherries. In addition, Tree Top’s wholly owned subsidiary, Northwest Naturals, offers dark sweet cherry and red sour cherry juice concentrates that are processed from the raw fruit to retain the character of the whole fruit, it says.
Northwest Naturals also offers cherry concentrates formulated with other natural flavors to match the characteristics of 100 percent single-ingredient fruit juice or to provide a value-added solution. Its portfolio also includes U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified organic dark sweet cherry and organic red sour cherry concentrates as well as juice ingredients that blend organic fruit juices and organic or natural flavors to customer specifications. The company also has the capability to create specialty bases for dairy and smoothie applications in both standard and custom formulations, it says. BI