Superfruits Take Center Stage

Defining an Emergent Category
Paul M. Gross, Phd

In 2004, the term “superfoods” was popularized by a best-selling book (1) proposing 14 whole foods with extraordinary nutrition. One – blueberries – became known as a “superfruit” (2) when its exceptional antioxidant properties were revealed by publication of USDA data on food antioxidant strength, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity or ORAC (3), ranking blueberries near the top of common plant foods.

More than a dozen industry publications for functional foods and beverages have referred to various exotic or antioxidant species as “superfruits” (4-24), yet this category presently does not have a working definition.

The purpose of this article is to give the superfruit category commercial and scientific dimensions.

Identifying Superfruits

The following list is not intended to be comprehensive, but gives names and main geographic origins for fruits (growers, manufacturers) and their products typically included in this category over 2004-present

  1. Açaí (Euterpe oleracea), Brazil
  2. Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Canada/USA
  3. Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), USA
  4. Grape (red, Vitis vinifera), USA
  5. Guaraná (Paullinia cupana), Brazil, Venezuela
  6. Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana), South Pacific Islands, Malaysia
  7. Noni (Morinda citrifolia), SouthPacificIslands
  8. Pomegranate (Punica granatum), Mediterranean Region, USA
  9. Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), China
  10. Wolfberry (“goji”, Lycium barbarum), China

Common berries, such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries used for a large number of consumer products, achieve many of the criteria below. They are, however, sufficiently known in the public, so do not attract interest as novelty fruits and are not usually included among superfruits.

Other superfruit candidates currently include cupuaçu, guava, lychee, pomelo, saskatoon berry, tamarind and yuzu for which there is currently insufficient commercial information to include in this presentation. Each of these and the tabulated fruits has a reference page on Wikipedia, http://wikipedia.org.

Commerce
With more than 5,000 new product launches on berries in 2005 (19), an annual growth rate in Europe of more than 25% for sales (22), and at least 500 new products in development (5), the superfruit category is poised to make significant commercial impact.

But what characteristics identify current superfruits with commercial potential?

Table 1. Seven factors potentially influencing commercial success of superfruits*

Novelty

Appeal (a)

Supply

Product

Promotion

Sales

Growth

Açaí

4

3

1

pulp powder

2

2

3

Blueberry

2

4

4

juice, fruit

4

4

4

Cranberry

2

4

4

juice

4

4

4

Red Grape

1

3

4

juice

3

4

3

Guaraná

3

2

2

seed powder (b)

2

2

3

Mangosteen

4

4

3

juice

3

4

4

Noni

2

2

3

juice

3

3

3

Pomegranate

4

4

4

juice

4

4

4

Seabuckthorn

3

1

2

juice

1

1

2

Wolfberry

4

3

3

juice, fruit

2

2

2

* Table values are the author's subjective rankings of 1-4 based on available industry data where 1 represents little commercial activity and 4 represents significant success

(a) taste, aroma, color, shape, perceived benefit

(b) Guaraná, unique among these fruits - as only its seed powder is included in this comparison - is an ingredient providing caffeine-like qualities whereas the other fruits are primary sources for finished products.

Science
Although a superfruit category has not been defined scientifically, its foundation presumably would involve characteristics of 1) high nutrient density, 2) superior antioxidant quality, and/or 3) potential health benefits. Evidence for this third criterion would include intensity of the current research effort and/or preliminary evidence for lowered disease risk in human subjects (“disease impact”).

Table 2. Four factors underlying a scientific basis for the superfruit category*

Nutrient density

Antioxidant strength (a)

Research intensity

Potential for disease impact

Açaí

4

4

1

4

Blueberry

2

2

4

4

Cranberry

2

2

4

4

Red Grape

2

2

4

3

Guaraná

2

1

2

2

Mangosteen

1

1 b

2

2

Noni

2

2

3

4

Pomegranate

1

3

4

4

Seabuckthorn

4

4

2

4

Wolfberry

4

3

3

4

* Table values are the author's subjective rankings of 1-4 based on published research retrieved by PubMed, http://pubmed.gov where 1 indicates little scientific support and 4 represents strong scientific evidence.

a. rankings are among just these fruits. By comparison to other plant foods (3), these fruits are all high in antioxidant strength (where data are available)

b. the edible part of mangosteen fruit – its seed aril – has not been assessed individually for antioxidant strength (although is expected to be low because the edible fruit is devoid of pigments) whereas its inedible exocarp contains dense pigmentation and antioxidant phytochemicals, see Ref. (8).

Conclusion
Seven commercial and four scientific criteria are presented to construct a working definition of the superfruit category for the related industries of functional foods, beverages and nutraceuticals.

References
1. Pratt S, Matthews K. Superfoods Rx, New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
2. Wild Blueberry Association of North America, http://www.wildblueberries.com/health_benefits.php
3. Wu X, Beecher GR, Holden JM, Haytowitz DB, Gebhardt SE, Prior RL. Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Jun 16;52(12):4026-37.
4. Starling S. Acai positioned to tap fruitful market, 2007. http://www.ffnmag.com/ASP/articleDisplay.asp?strArticleId=1232&strSite=FFNSite&Screen=HOME
5. Lidsky D. The superfruits are coming, 2006, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/110/next-superfruits.html
6. Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, Amazon superfruits set to boom, 2006 http://www.ffnmag.com/NH/ASP/strArticleID/1180/strSite/FFNSite/articleDisplay.asp
7. Gross PM. Exotic antioxidant superfruits. Pomegranate punicalagins: ancient aril antioxidants, 2007, NPICenter.com, in press.
8. Gross PM. Is mangosteen a superfruit? Nutrient and antioxidant properties, 2007 http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=17613&zoneid=43
9. Gross PM. Açaí – Potent antioxidant superfruit, 2007 http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=17363&zoneid=43
10. Gross PM. Goji's dozen friends of eye health, 2006 http://www.npicenter.com/anm/templates/newsATemp.aspx?articleid=17095&zoneid=43
11. Gross PM. Exploring exotic antioxidant superfruits, 2006 http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/articles/472/6ah169431758327.html
12. Gross PM, Zhang X, Zhang R. Wolfberry: Nature's Bounty of Nutrition and Health, Booksurge Publishing, 2006, http://wolfberry.org
13. HortResearch. “Superfruits”, the future of health, 2006, http://www.hortresearch.co.nz/index/news/493
14. Halliday J. Superfruits could wrestle gut health beverages from dairy, 2006, http://www.nutraingredients.com/news/ng.asp?id=71650-hortresearch-prebiotic-beverages
15. Douaud C. Pressure group denounces superfruit juices, 2006, http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/news/ng.asp?id=71664
16. FSA calls for noni juice approval, 2006, http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=69401-noni-juice-fruit
17. Changes to novel food laws aim to simplify application process, 2006, http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=68158-novel-foods-additives-phytosterols
18. Fletcher A. EU novel foods consultation nears deadline, 2006, http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=69034-novel-foods-gm-fruit
19. Fletcher A. Superfruits set to dominate flavor market, 2006, http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?n=66783-datamonitor-flavours-antioxidant
20. Heller L. Superfruits and grains to set next functional trend?, 2006, http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=66095-ccd-fruits-grains-functional-foods
21. Demand for exotic fruits set to increase in 2006, report, http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/news/ng.asp?n=65205-ccd-exotic-fruits-white-tea
22. Mellentin J. Marketing wellness: fruit in the food and beverage industry, 2006, http://www.naturalproductsinsider.com/articles/470/470_611marketresearch02.html
23. Mellentin J. Ten key trends in functional foods 2006, New Nutrition Business, The Centre for Food & Health Studies Ltd., London, UK, 2006.
24. Mazza G. Compositional and functional properties of saskatoon berry and blueberry. Int. J. Fruit Sci. 2005, 5(3):99-118.

About the Author
Paul M. Gross, Ph.D., received his doctorate in physiology from the University of Glasgow, Scotland and was a post-doctoral fellow in neuroscience at the Laboratory of Cerebral Metabolism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD. A former Research Scholar for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, he published 85 peer-reviewed journal reports and book chapters over a 25 year career in medical science, and was recipient of the Karger Memorial Award, Switzerland, for publications on brain capillaries. Dr. Gross is on the Steering Committee of the International Berry Health Association. He is senior author of a 2006 book on the goji berry entitled Wolfberry: Nature’s Bounty of Nutrition and Health (Booksurge Publishing, Amazon.com, http://wolfberry.org/) and is publisher of The Berry Doctor's Journal, http://berrydoctor.com where the public can obtain free information on berry science and nutrition.

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