By most measures, superfruits are one of the biggest success stories of the industry, beginning to nip at the heels of dairy products as the forerunners of innovation and sales growth. Growing consumer demand for healthy and interesting foods is pushing fruits, with their intrinsic health aspects, to the top of the functional foods market.
For the superfruits like acai, bilberries, blueberries, cranberries, mangosteen and pomegranates, the future looks particularly bright. The number of products using these ingredients is growing exponentially each year. Superfruits or their extracts are being found in a dizzying array of products. Even supplements manufacturers are beginning to utilise antioxidant-rich superfruit extracts in formulations.
Their success appears to be attributable to several factors. One is the science. Companies have seen what published research has done for the godfather of functional fruits, the cranberry, and have understood the desire in the marketplace for foods that play a role in maintaining health. Consequently, companies have made strategic long-term commitments to researching their products, forming alliances with universities and funding private research.
Another success factor lies in the education of the public through public relations campaigns, advertising and the multi-level marketing platform. Industry leaders are making great efforts to reach out to health and food journalists, as well as the healthcare community, with the results of the latest scientific studies.
Such efforts are paving a pathway for all other ingredients, products and platforms that have a healthy aura.
Geni Herbs: PomElla pomegranate
Years of investing heavily in university-based research led Geni Herbs, makers of PomElla, to a clear conclusion: the whole natural profile of the pomegranate, not just certain compounds, was the way to go. It was the synergistic effect of the full spectrum of the fruit's polyphenols that allowed for PomElla's bioavailability, all the increased antioxidant capabilities and the reduction of factors of oxidative stress. So the company patented the extraction process that gives them the full natural spectrum.
Such attention to and investment in science and pre-clinical, toxicity and clinical studies is one of the things that distinguishes Geni Herbs. This can be traced, the company says, to Dr Lal Hingorani, who leads the research team. With a PhD in chemistry and a master's in organic chemistry, he presents clinical research around the world. His understanding of botanical attributes and commitment to clinical research is the basis for the company's vision: validation leads to customer confidence.
This vision has led the company to focus its marketing strategy for PomElla on cardiovascular health. A bioavailability study should be out soon, and an efficacy study is not far behind, according to Blake Ebersole, Geni Herbs' marketing coordinator. PomElla is scheduled for a clinical study programme through 2010, and the company has many more plans for the pomegranate.
"We are developing a pomegranate portfolio of the different parts of the plant, such as the seed oil, which is rich in conjugated linoleic acid," Ebersole said.
Vertical integration ensures that PomElla comes from organically grown pomegranates, is certified kosher, and is GMO- and pesticide-free.
And by providing stable delivery systems — powders, granules, liquid, tea — the company has made it easier for manufacturers to produce desirable products. www.geniherbs.com
NP Nutra: goji, acai and noni
Nature's Power Nutraceuticals Corp — known as NP Nutra — was founded in 1998 as a manufacturer of natural ingredients, with a special focus on antioxidants and other botanicals.
Based in Southern California, the company has manufacturing facilities in Hawaii, Brazil and China, where it processes a full line of exotic superfruits including acai, acerola, camu camu, goji (wolfberry), guarana, lo han guo, malabar tamarind, mangosteen, noni and pomegranate.
While other companies provide some of these ingredients, what makes NP Nutra unique, the company says, is its commitment to quality manufacturing.
"Botanists examine all of our raw materials, testing the organoleptic qualities (touch, outward appearance, odour and taste), and those that don't meet our quality standards are rejected," explains Jeff Lane, quality control manager. "We also guarantee that each production lot is free from all known sources of contaminants, undergoing HPTLC, UV, GC, HPLC and microbiological analysis."
Among its many product offerings, the company points to its goji ingredients as one of its most unique lines.
"The 10:1 goji concentrate is popular with manufacturers and end-users alike," explains Thomas Walton. "We receive about five containers a month of this product alone. Our Goji Powder 20% polysaccharide is water-soluble, has a great taste and does not cake up — unlike 95 per cent of all other goji powders in the industry. This makes it very versatile and easy to use. And our whole goji berries are wildcrafted and taste great. They are being used in many nutritional bars in the market."
NP Nutra also offers a nonfrozen acai puree with a super-high 25 per cent solids content. "This is twice as high as all common frozen acai purees," Walton says. "This nonfrozen acai puree essentially acts like a 4:1 concentrate and the fact that the product does not need to be frozen during transport or storage makes it a much easier and more versatile raw material to use for functional beverages."
The company also points to its noni products, sold under the name All-Noni, as another industry leader. The fruits are grown organically and are non-GMO, and the company oversees every step of production, from the farms in Hawaii to the processing and production facilities in Hawaii and California.
"We have been in the industry for eight years and know what the consumer demands," says Walton. " NP Nutra also is the only company to offer any complete private label package, helping develop new products from scratch and even helping with art design and packaging." www.npnutra.com
InterHealth Nutraceuticals: OptiBerry berry blend
After extensive scientific research, InterHealth Nutraceuticals of California released OptiBerry in 2003, a combination of six anthocyanin-rich berry extracts specifically chosen for their combined synergy and efficacy in providing whole-body antioxidant protection in a single formula.
According to marketing manager Evelyn Scalora, InterHealth began with more than 20 combinations of extracts to evaluate key functional parameters (ORAC antioxidant activity, VEGF anti-angiogenic activity, cellular uptake/bioavailability and cytotoxicity) to determine which would best fit the bill.
The combination that stood out — wild blueberry, strawberry, wild bilberry, cranberry, elderberry, raspberry seed — became OptiBerry. Subsequent in vivo studies confirmed that it provides cardiovascular protection; supports blood glucose regulation, mental clarity and brain function; and boosts urinary tract, eye and skin health.
InterHealth has developed a network of universities to conduct independent research on its products, including Harvard Medical School, Georgetown Medical Center and the University of California at Davis. The company also points with pride to its head of research and development, Dr Debasis Bagchi, who is well published in the nutrition field.
Among the most recent studies was one published in December 2005 in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry; it provided the first in vivo evidence substantiating OptiBerry's anti-angiogenic properties — its ability to block undesirable blood vessel growth.
The company has licensing agreements with various companies and supports sales through co-branding. According to Scalora, the product does particularly well in Asia, where it is often marketed for its condition-specific benefits in eye, brain or circulatory health. www.interhealthusa.com
Decas Botanical Synergies: cranberry extracts
With the longest tradition as a functional food, the cranberry remains the superfruit leader. Knowledge of cranberries' healthy properties, particularly for urinary-tract health, was passed on by mothers for generations before science began to look at it seriously.
In 1994, a Rutgers University study found that it is the proanthocyanidins that are responsible for cranberries' anti-adhesion properties; in April 2004, France's food safety authority, the AFFSA, permitted a health claim stating that the powder and juice of North American cranberries reduces the adhesion of certain E. coli bacteria to urinary-tract walls.
Since then, consumer interest in cranberries has exploded. The National Institutes of Health is currently conducting 13 studies on cranberries, covering urinary, cardiovascular and oral benefits, and effects on yeast infections.
Riding this wave, Decas Botanical Synergies, a subsidiary of Decas Cranberry Products, is focusing on the science of health and wellness, creating products with tightly focused applications. "We're creating a product for gut health, for instance, that's a combination of cranberry, wild blueberry and grape seed extract," said Doug Klaiber, Decas Botanicals' general manager.
Studies have confirmed that such combinations enhance the antioxidant and anti-Helicobacter pylori activity of cranberry powder. H. pylori is an important human pathogen linked to peptic ulcers and cardiovascular diseases. Other arenas Decas is exploring include a cranberry-oregano extract combination aimed at the inhibition of listeria in beef and fish for the food preservation market.
"We're also working very hard to develop processing methods that are best from a health standpoint," Klaiber says, "and trying to standardise our products, and get the whole industry to agree to standards on phytochemicals and the methodologies used to measure them."
Decas Botanicals is also encouraging good farming practices and expanding the crop of the varieties higher in proanthocyanidins, such as High Black.
Decas is a vertically integrated company, one of the leading purveyors of cranberry ingredients worldwide, supplying food processors, retailers and consumers with more than 40 million pounds of product each year. www.decascranberry.com