Cranberry was the first superfruit juice to achieve serious sales figures in the 1990s and 2000s by attaching proven benefits (urinary tract and others) to a trusted brand. More recently, other juices to have made it onto functional beverage shelves in a major way include a?ai, blueberry and pomegranate — offerings that have entered the public consciousness and achieved healthy, if niche, sales.
The trend is showing few signs of abating with recent US launches, including watermelon (low sugar, high in lycopene and antioxidants by Sundia) and plum juices (high fibre plus added vitamins, minerals and herbs by Sunsweet).
While many of these fruits have been available in niche Asian and African markets as milkshake flavours, or been produced in domestic situations, or more recently in the form of convenient RTD smoothies, it is a relatively recent phenomenon that they are arriving en masse in a variety of juice formats. And they usually, though not necessarily, are backed by marketing campaigns extolling their intrinsic health benefits.
In his report, 'Superfruit: eight key case studies in marketing healthy fruit,' Julian Mellentin notes of Pom Wonderful's budding success story, "Pom Wonderful combines innovative packaging, clever merchandising and delicious taste to deliver a health benefit — but a health benefit that is communicated softly." A soft sell may be important but a fruit can hardly claim superfruit status if a specific health benefit isn't referred to somewhere, if not on the package-front itself, said Karl Crawford, food business development leader at New Zealand-based fruit science company HortResearch.
"What makes a fruit 'super' is proof, although 'proof' is flexible," he told FF&N. "It can be direct proof from scientific study or 'proof' inferred by common acceptance. Either way, the health benefit must be specific to a particular health concern. Or, if a general benefit, it must be above that already expected from fruit (for example a blueberry with higher levels of health-promoting antioxidants)." Crawford notes that pomegranate was an unpopular fruit with a reputation for average taste and being difficult to eat until it made its 'value-added' transformation into a superfruit juice. Pom Wonderful has become a $90 million brand and sales are rising.
Whether or not these successes mean superfruit juices are about to challenge the mainstream orange/apple juice hegemony is another question. "That will depend on marketing and availability," Crawford said. "To move beyond niche you need a lot of juice! And if you can sell one litre of pomegranate juice for many times the price of the same litre of orange juice, is there any need to move out of that niche?"