Weekly Comment

Exotic fruits or local berries? You choose

- Last updated on GMT

As consumer demand for exotic superfruits increases, so will the
impact of transport on the environment. But as policy makers and
green campaigners devise more ways of monitoring greenhouse gases,
who will win the environmental tug of war?

Fruits such as acai and cupuacu have gained notoriety for their health benefits. But importing such exotic types can put industry in the uncomfortable position of being at loggerheads with the planet. Just one round flight from Brazil - home of the acai berry - to the UK produces more than two tonnes of CO2. And as the science stacks up on warming sea and air temperatures, maybe the time has come to turn our full attention to home-grown exotica. Home and away ​ Indeed, one solution to meeting demand for these fruits would be - where possible - to source products locally. This has already worked in the organic sector, where consumer demand turned from imported organically-produced products to locally-produced. In the US, sales of fresh and locally grown foods shot up, driven by a swelling demand for 'green' food. Packaged Facts said sales in the US of locally grown foods hit the $5bn mark - and estimates by 2011 it could hit $7bn. The UK has seen similar results. Sainsbury's saw demand for British organic milk soar by 80 per cent in 2005. If it can work for organics, could the same happen for superfruits? Maybe. But it is a thought which raises more questions, least of all, could acai be grown in the barren wilderness of eastern Europe? In turn, research into fruit variants and hardier plants might be the saviour. Mile high club ​ Air freighting is the most expensive and most environmentally damaging mode of transporting food. One per cent of food consumed in the UK is air freighted and is responsible for 11 per cent of the total food transport CO2 emissions, according to the Soil Association. One flight to import US grown cranberries to France could add as much as 0.725 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the company Carbon Footprint, which has been set up to inform people about the greenhouse gas. Climate model simulations predict an increase in average surface air temperature of about 2.5°C by the year 2100, it said. Cranberries - although largely produced in the US - are seeing an increase in demand in their native North America as a flavour and health ingredient. But popularity outside of the US is also on the up. According to Mintel's Global New Product Database, the rest of the world launched 176 products last year, compared to just nine the year before. Aronia - a berry native to eastern North America - has also seen a surge in demand and is said to contain a high ability to counteract oxidative stress. This is all well and good for the health-crazed consumer, but what health benefits would aronia or fruits from the far flung regions of Africa have on the environment? ​The rest of the food industry has already been making steps to cut down the carbon footprint. Firms have been reducing waste, installing more efficient machinery and cutting lorry movements. After considering the implications, maybe the next exotic fruit will be one found on our doorstep. Alex McNally is a senior reporter with NutraIngredients.com and has lived and worked in France, Brussels and the UK. If you would like to comment on the piece, send an email to:alex.mcnally@decisionnews.com

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