Baobab pulp powder comes in an off-white colour and looks like sherbet; it has an unusual ‘caramel pear’ taste and can be used as a flavour enhancer or to help food and drink manufacturers reduce sugar in some applications.
The powder is also rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, calcium and iron and high in antioxidants. Market research firm Mintel predicted that the superfruit would make a major impact on the European market as long ago as 2009, after gaining EU novel foods approval in June 2008.
But despite its seemingly strong credentials, limited uptake during 2009 surprised analysts and industry insiders, who blamed the recession and delayed US GRAS approval (finally granted last September) which meant that cautious large food manufacturers only conducted minimal R&D on the fruit.
Distribution base holds key?
And according to the trade association representing baobab as part of South Africa’s 'natural products' industry, PhytoTrade, the number of previous EU launches was also affected by the need to develop effective distribution networks for the fruit extract.
PhytoTrade spokeswoman Rosie Abdy Collins told FoodNavigator.com:“2010 was a really good year, with many companies performing NPD throughout the year, while we’ve expanded our distribution base and expect to see the results in 2011.”
Mintel's 2010 data corroborates Abdy Collins' comments, with European food and drink launches of products containing baobab totalling 28 (excluding the UK) with 19 launches in France, 6 in Germany, and one each in Finland, The Netherlands and Sweden.
“There’s no doubt the recession impacted upon speed to launch, and the time firms took to perform NPD with baobab fruit products,” said Abdy Collins, while PhytoTrade head of market development Lucy Welford previously told this publication that the formulation of baobab into products might take slightly longer than usual due to its dry, powdery consistency.
Abdy Collins said a “broad range” of launches worldwide in 2010 included yoghurts and cereal bars containing baobab in Woolworth’s South Africa (which she describes as that country’s Marks & Spencer) while a Japanese launch saw the fruit pulp pared with Pepsi.
“Within the EU, specifically the UK, the raw food sector saw most uptake," she said, "Principally due to the fact that we have a very active distributor there [the Organic Herb Trading Company].”
‘Health and wellness’ drives uptake
UK baobab launches in 2010 included lemonade, chocolate and ice cream, said Abdy Collins, who added that PhytoTrade had “just expanded” within the EU after taking on Swiss-based trading and service firm IMPAG as its distributor in German-speaking countries from November.
A spokewoman for UK baobab distributor the Organic Herb Trading Company said: "Our main partner here is Yozuna [who sell baobab-based jam and lemonade] who were one of the original brands to use baobab. We did some market analysis really, and in terms of uptake there hasn't necessarily been a huge number of launches, but there are more products out there,"
Other examples of UK products on the market with baobab now include cider kettle chips and even London Gin, she added, while the superfruit is being used in chocolate bars within Europe.
So what specifically is driving uptake of baobab amongst food manufacturers? Is it the fact that it can be used to reduce sugar in food formulations, its taste or high fibre content?
“That’s quite difficult to answer,” said Abdy Collins. “‘Health and wellness’ is the mega trend all large companies are looking at and baobab fits this well. Moreover, it’s an exotic and exciting ingredient, and this also appeals.”