Food Forum: Superfruits at a tipping point

Foods such as granola bars, muffins and cold cereals that incorporate superfruits will drive growth.

By Jeff Manning

Health-conscious consumers who already eat fresh fruit regularly clearly indicated an interest in the incredible range of foods that feature superfruits such as strawberries, blueberries and cherries, according to a national consumer study conducted by the Cherry Marketing Institute earlier this year.

These “superfruit foods” come in single-serve containers, are easily eaten out of home and are available nearly everywhere, from Safeway to Starbucks to the San Francisco Airport. None use fresh, perishable fruit. Instead, they depend on dried and frozen fruit and, to a lesser degree, juice. Importantly, they are consumed with great frequency and span all day parts, from an early morning scone to a dinner salad to a late-night yogurt parfait.

Not surprisingly, traditional fruits such as strawberries show up most frequently in smoothies and raisins in oatmeal cookies. However, the study had surprises. Cranberries popped up in green salads, blueberries dominated muffins and cherries seem to have the greatest potential across moist foods. Below are some highlights.

Nearly 90% of those surveyed consumed dried fruit in the past month, with all types of dried considered nutritious. Dried blueberries, cranberries and cherries scored the highest on this measure.

As expected, cold cereal and refrigerated yogurt were the most frequently consumed superfruit foods. However, energy and granola bars, fruit juice blends, oatmeal and dried fruit and nut mix were not far behind. Importantly, frozen yogurt and yogurt parfaits had relatively high levels of frequency so, taken as a whole, yogurt-based foods appear the most important carrier of superfruits.

Foods consumed plain—without fruits—commanded a sizeable portion in most of the categories covered, with around 60% of consumers reporting some plain usage. However, there is no question that superfruits have made huge inroads into most of the food categories. For example, 74% said that they have eaten muffins with blueberries and 59% said they ate frozen yogurt with strawberries. Even mixed green salads are carriers for fruit with 50% of respondents stating that they have had salads with cranberries. My guess is that if we had asked this question 10 years ago, the percentage eaten plain would have been closer to 80%.

Looking forward, consumers are sending a clear signal that they intend to eat more superfruits. Consumers were asked their interest in eating a range of foods with various superfruits. The scale was 1 to 9 with 1 “Not at all” and 9 “Extremely” interested. Some of the most interesting numbers follow.

For scones, with the exception of raisins, all scores were in the “7” range. Plain with no fruit got a 7.21, suggesting that consumers like their baked goods with and without fruit.

Strawberries were the big winners with yogurt, cereal and smoothies. However, both blueberries and cherries scored high in the yogurt category and raisins took top mark in oatmeal cookies.

The future looks pretty good for dried fruit and nut mixes. All superfruits were above 7, with cranberries taking the lead position at 7.41.

This research also explored the potential specifically for cherries by comparing the data for eaten in the past with intention for future consumption. In every category, from scones to green salad, cherries are primed to grow. The largest “gaps” between past usage and future interest are in baked goods, cold and hot cereal and green salad. The other food groups where cherries belong are yogurt-based parfaits, frozen and refrigerated.

In conclusion, this research strongly suggests that dried fruit has almost unlimited potential as an ingredient category. The future for frozen fruit also looks promising, especially in the baked goods sector. Juice futures are positive, especially on the blend front. Lastly, my bet is that total fruit consumption over the next five years will remain stable, with dried superfruits grabbing a significant share from the fresh market. This will reflect growing consumer demand for superfruit foods matched by manufacturers who will happily supply them in convenient, portable and non-perishable forms.

Jeff Manning is chief marketing officer for the Cherry Marketing Institute, www.choosecherries.com.

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