Superfruits are packed with antioxidants, which are believed to make a positive contribution to health; but many of the current favourites like goji berry and acai are sourced from overseas, flying in the face of trends towards local sourcing to help reduce the environmental impact of food supply. This means that exotic but healthy foods like superfruits could pit two major consumer trends against each other. And when the same people who prioritise healthy eating are also likely to be most aware of environmental issues like food miles, they could be forced to choose between two major pulls on their purse strings.
Datamonitor consumer analyst Michael Hughes told FoodNavigator.com: "Consumers are more concerned about their own individual needs than the environment." He said that ultimately, food purchase decisions are made according to taste, pleasure and enjoyment. Health is a relatively recent addition to the process, and in this sense superfruits offer guilt-free pleasure.
"It is definitely a trend that is going to continue. Superfruits are different from fad diets like Atkins and the cabbage soup diet as they do not dictate what people have to eat." However in a recent interview with FoodNavigator.com new Leatherhead Food International chief executive Paul Berryman said he believes that superfruits do pose a dilemma - not only for consumers, who are thinking more and more about food sourcing, but also for food manufacturer.
He noted retailer Tesco's move to put carbon footprint information on packs of products like potato crisps. If such information is appropriate for a snack product, should it not also be given for products sold on a healthy platform?
For instance, should a smoothie containing pink guava, mango and goji berry that currently draws attention to the fruit's vitamin content also fess up to the distance the ingredients have travelled? Major UK smoothie brand Innocent did not reply to an enquiry as to whether it would consider putting carbon footprint information on its bottles prior to publication of this article.
But Hughes said that, despite their far-flung origin, in the grand scheme superfruits may not be so bad for the environment if we take into account more than just food miles. The growing market for superfruits is underscoring a viable business in the Amazon rainforest, and since it is proving profitable this can discourage the cutting down of trees to make way for other money-making schemes.
Moreover, just because a food is sourced locally, that doesn't mean it is sustainably produced. If a country does not have the right weather conditions for a fruit, growers could resort to artificial and chemical techniques that have a worse effect on the environment than air freighting. Datamonitor's Productscan Online indicated a 67.5 per cent increase in launches of products containing superfruits in 2007 up until November 30, compared to the whole of 2006.
The data related to global launches, but Hughes was not able to furnish FoodNavigator.com with precise product numbers.