Frost & Sullivan Market Insight   Published: 6 Mar 2008
Superfruits - Bespoke for Functionality or Fad?
Date Published: 6 Mar 2008

By Sangeetha Srinivasan

In recent years, Europe has been echoing with the health benefits of fruits and veggies more than ever before. The scientific validation of the functional potency of the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables is gaining momentum. The association of fruit and vegetables to human health has gained better clarity, especially with regards to the health benefits in relation to their antioxidant properties. This is because most of the degenerative and lifestyle-related disorders are caused by oxidative stress, which can be contested by replenishing and/or improving the body's antioxidant pool.

The European Union has taken considerable measures to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetable amongst the population. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme, community level initiatives such as 5 a Day program and Fruits & Veggies-More MattersTM are some examples of promotional activities at a governmental level to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. In addition, FreshFel, the pan-European forum for the European Fresh produce sector, created a supporting logo for the campaign intended to spread awareness about the benefits of fruits and vegetables. FreshFel Europe aims to increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is currently stagnant or in decline, due to the negative influence of lifestyle.

Within the fruit juices market, smoothies, dairy juice blends, functional drinks with added vitamins or minerals and other associated ingredients are hitting the limelight. These segments are experiencing double digit growth rates, which can be largely attributed to the innovative contributions of the beverage manufacturers. Exotic flavours and blends, convenience packaging and improved functionality with value-added ingredients are key trends in the European fruit juices and nectars market. 'Superfruits' are a new category of exotic fruits with exceptionally high antioxidant potential, and these include acai, pomegranate and cranberries, among others. These fruit and berry ingredients are extremely well-promoted, and fit into this trend like "a hand in a glove". The popularity of cranberries is now phenomenal, and they have been introduced into a variety of product formats within the last two years, although were previously resigned to accompanying Christmas turkey. The explosion in cranberry popularity was estimated by Mintel to reach around 900 food and beverage products in 2007, a staggering increase on the 54 product launches in 2006.

Superfruits - The Resonating Vogue and Challenges

In principle, 'superfruits' fall under the category of fruits. However, the term "superfruits" was designed to maximise the marketing push for the outstanding functional properties of these foods. The terminology of "superfoods" was first coined in the US in the mid-1990's, to define foods with outstanding health-promoting properties. Superfruits are therefore part of the superfoods category. This terminology was popularised in 2004, from where it has gone on to gain an immense commercial significance.

Several examples of the most popular superfruits are; acai, cranberry, goji berry, blueberry, mangosteen, noni and pomegranate. These are used widely in functional foods and beverages and other nutraceutical sectors. However, the industry has not yet defined a concrete list of superfruits, mainly because of the constant inflow of rare fruits into the existing database. Some emerging superfruits include bilberry, blackcurrant, elderberry, Indian gooseberry, tamarind and so on.

The food industry has embraced superfruits as a method for marketing the functionality of beverages and fruit juices. The success of specific categories of superfruits depends largely on the following factors:

  • Nutrient density
  • Antioxidant property
  • Research intensity
  • Marketing efficiency

Ideally marketing efficiency is a combination of each of the other three factors. Chart 1.1 shows the ideal market scenario for establishing a firm market position of a superfruit.

                                                                               Source: Frost & Sullivan

In 2008, the market is not synergistically aligned, where the marketing and promotional efforts of some beverage manufacturers are independent from the actual science. As a result, the superfruits market is challenged by consumer scepticism regarding the efficacy of these fruits. Furthermore, direct, retail and other mainstream marketing channels aim to create undue hype about superfruits, without revealing the actual percentage concentration of superfruit used in the product. Frequently therefore, consumers run the risk of paying a premium for what is a mere standard apple, pear or grape juice, containing a miniscule quantity of superfruit.

Chart 1.2 highlights the cause and effect of key marketing descriptives that mislead consumers and may cause consumer distrust of genuine superfruit products.

                                                                                      Source: Frost & Sullivan

Incidences of such misleading marketing measures are being periodically brought to the attention of consumers by legislative bodies, consumer groups and nutritional experts through the media. This bad press is retarding the velocity of market growth and also hampers the authentic research and marketing efforts of honest market participants.

However, both the market and the consumer is expected to benefit from the new EU health claims regulation (EC 1924/2006), which poses stringent legal framework that ascertains the need of scientific authentication to support any health claim. Products containing superfruits will therefore be held under close vigilance. This EU-wide measure will have an enduring positive effect on the market position, growth and brand image of research-orientated food producers, and should consequently boost trade within the industry.

Growth Statistics: Alluring or Alarming?

The observation of the demand and the subsequent growth of superfruits, such as cranberry, pomegranate, acai and mangosteen, signal opportunities but also cautions against the high likelihood of market impediment. According to Soft Drinks International, cranberry is the third highest selling fruit juice in North America and in many parts of Europe. Pomegranate based fruit juice manufacturers, including the UK-based PomeGreat, have experienced double digit growth rates, against the fruit juice industry average growth rate of 5-8 per cent. Market reports indicate growth of pomegranate-based fruit juices by around 400 per cent between 2005 and 2007. Similarly, the fruit juice manufacturer XanGo LLC, a multilevel marketing firm based in the US and supplying to European countries such as Germany and the UK, recorded an astounding growth of 400 per cent between 2002 and 2005. This surge is largely attributed to its speciality product XanGo, which contains the superfruit mangosteen.

Several beverage giants, such as Pepsi Co, Coca Cola and Cadbury Schweppes have also shown interest in the superfruits market, by the acquisition of fruit juice makers and the launch of new product lines in the super fruit category. Some examples of new products from Pepsi Co include Fuelosophy, Tropicana's new variety Pomegranate – blueberry blend and also Dole Sparklers. Private label manufacturers such as Sainsbury, Tesco and Marks & Spencer are also introducing products into this highly competitive market.

Although these growth trends and market dynamics seem attractive, market participants are recommended to treat them with caution, as some health claims made by leading manufacturers have been condemned in the past. Consequently, the superfruits market is gradually gaining popularity through this negative press. Consumer scepticisms about scientific validity and the safety of superfruit products are gradually seeping into the market. In the long term, this may paralyse market growth. The enduring vibrancy of the superfruits market rests largely on research-orientated product suppliers and marketers. These market participants take responsibility for reducing the ambiguity of these products and communicate the right scientific message to consumers, enabling them to make informed decisions. These market participants educate consumers in the latest scientific and research advances and caution them on false claims. Direct marketing to end-users through retail and multilevel marketing policies for superfruits is the easiest way to generate immediate results. However, the inclusion of consumer groups and nutrition experts as influencers in the marketing channel should facilitate the creation of a niche and premium image for superfruits, where these products rightly belong.