What exactly is a “superfood”? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing.” And that’s just what consumers want more of, especially this time of year.
According to Google Trends, searches for “superfoods” have spiked in the month of January since 2005, Bloomberg/Businessweek reports.
The seasonal surge in interest — no doubt sparked by New Year’s resolutions — spells opportunities for produce departments looking to boost sales of everything from kale to sweet potatoes to pomegranates in 2015.
All Hail Kale
If you think that kale has jumped the shark, think again. On Oct. 1, 2014, the second annual National Kale Day, Nielsen tweeted that U.S. sales of kale increased 56.6 percent between 2009 and 2013.
National Kale Day was created by kale ambassadors Drew Ramsey, M.D., and chef Jennifer Iserloh, authors of the book “50 Shades of Kale” (HarperWave 2013), who brought together consumers, chefs, nutritionists, doctors and farmers to help launch National Kale Day in 2013.
“National Kale Day has helped kale sustain momentum and join together an audience of passionate consumers, but most importantly, more people than ever are trying kale,” says Ramsey. “From 300,000 kale salads served in New York City public schools to the all-kale menu at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, we’ve had a lot of fun helping people celebrate kale through purely grass-roots efforts.”
What makes kale a superfood? “Kale just tops the chart with absorbable nutrients per calorie,” continues Ramsey, who explains that the dark leafy greens have more calcium than milk and contains 607 percent of the RDA of vitamin K per cup of raw leaves. Kale also contains iron, magnesium, folate, vitamins A and C, and manganese.
With such compelling nutritional selling points, Ramsey forecasts continued growth for the vegetable.
“Kale is one of the great waves that the health movement and superfoods are surfing. We are being led back to healthy eating by plants, and kale is such a great example of how plant-based diets work,” he says.
In an effort to keep pace with demand, the United States grew a record crop of kale this past year, but even that may not have been enough. “With the popularity of juicing and eating for health — I mean, there was a blip in the kale seed supply, and people freaking panicked!” exclaims Ramsey. “I think we are just getting started.”
Indeed, kale appears in products in every area of the supermarket, from center store to frozen foods, not to mention produce.
“Retailers are selling more kale than ever before,” affirms Ramsey, pointing to companies like Pelion, S.C.-based Walter P. Rawl and Sons Inc., with its Nature’s Greens Kale Chip Kits featuring ready-to-bake kale with chili and lime seasoning, and San Miguel Produce, of Oxnard, Calif., with its SuperKALE salads. Both are “just a couple of examples of products that are making kale accessible for consumers,” notes Ramsey.
When Earthbound Farm, of San Juan Bautista, Calif., launched its Kale Italia, it did so as a test, without a significant supply behind it. “We got such a huge demand for it that we immediately ramped up production,” says Samantha Cabaluna, VP marketing and communications.
“I think superfoods are very attractive to consumers,” she asserts. “Just the name promises so much, right? People want superfoods that are convenient and delicious — superfoods without sacrifice, so to speak.”
Passion for Pomegranates
Antioxidant-packed and fiber-rich pomegranates are also high in vitamins C and K, as well as vitamin B5, which helps the body metabolize protein, carbohydrates and fats. All of this undoubtedly factored into Men’s Health magazine’s crowning pomegranates one of the “40 Best Age-Erasing Superfoods.”
Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful has experienced the rise in consumer demand and sales of pomegranates first-hand. “The arils category grew more than 10 percent [according to IRI data] during the 2013 pomegranate season [October 2013-January 2014],” notes Dahlia Reinkopf, senior director of marketing for Pom Wonderful.
“Pom Poms Fresh Arils led that growth, with more than 20 percent increase over prior year,” she adds. “Our Wonderful variety pomegranates also outgrew the category, reaching more than two-thirds of the market share and adding more than 1 million new households since prior year.”
To capitalize on the popularity of pomegranates, pomegranate juice and pomegranate teas, Pom Wonderful introduced Pom Antioxidant Super Teas this past fall. The new flavors, which join Pom’s Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea, are Pomegranate Lemonade Tea, Pomegranate Sweet Tea and Pomegranate Honey Green Tea.
Additionally, for the first time in three years, Pom Wonderful returned to television this past October, with “Crazy Healthy” commercials. Designed to resonate with consumers who’ve made New Year’s resolutions to get healthier, the campaign features four spots highlighting the antioxidant power of Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice.
The campaign, which includes national network and cable television, with more than 3,000 broadcast prime, late-night and cable spots, aired 400 ad spots in the first week alone. These equated to more than 150 million impressions.
Work the Rainbow
From a nutritional standpoint, a diet plentiful in superfoods works best when all colors of the rainbow are consumed. With vibrant produce displays and a full spectrum of better health in mind, Frieda’s Produce, of Los Alamitos, Calif., launched its Try This, Not That campaign during the holiday season.
The campaign tempted consumers to try superfoods such as purple sweet potatoes, gold beets and green cauliflower in place of their traditionally hued counterparts.
Frieda’s expects superfoods to stay on the nation’s collective radar for the foreseeable future. “In addition to the obvious superfoods like kale, which seems to be everywhere, we are continuing to see big increases in Brussels sprouts — green, baby green and baby purple,” says Karen Caplan, the specialty produce company’s president and CEO. In terms of the year ahead, Caplan notes, “We also expect collard greens, turnip greens and all colors of chard to be foodie darlings.”
Frieda’s has high expectations for its exclusive Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes, which offer antioxidant anthocyanins. “[They] have caught the eye of fitness and running communities, who have really embraced them as clean fuel for their workouts,” observes Caplan.
For grocers that want to grow their superfood business, communication is key. “Proper signage, with an accurate and verified nutritional callout, such as ‘High in vitamin C,’ is always a great way to educate shoppers and produce staff alike on superfood items,” advises Caplan. “Additionally, we believe that registered nutritionists and dietitians play a key role in providing education to shoppers with sampling events, cooking demos and nutrition classes.”
New Varieties and Traditional Favorites
Rich in valuable nutrients and antioxidants, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins C and K. They’re also a good source of folate, manganese, vitamin B6, dietary fiber and more.
Ocean Mist Farms, of Castroville, Calif., offers a full range of Brussels sprouts products that make preparation and consumption a breeze, including the Season & Steam Brussels sprouts product line featuring Quick Cook (halved) Brussels Sprouts, SuperShreds Brussels Sprouts and Microwavable Whole Brussels Sprouts packages.
Artichokes, also offered by Ocean Mist, are a great source of potassium. One medium artichoke provides more than 400 milligrams of potassium, about as much as a small banana. Artichokes are also a good source of magnesium, and an excellent source of vitamin C and dietary fiber.
According to the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Americans consume only 12 to 15 grams of the recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day. A 120-gram artichoke contains 10.3 grams of dietary fiber.
Mann Packing Co., of Salinas, Calif., is simplifying the consumption of superfoods with a variety of products, including Broccoli Wokly, fresh broccoli florettes that can be steamed in their own microwaveable bag. The company is also pioneering Kalettes in the United States. The product, which was developed by a seed company in the United Kingdom, is a new vegetable that looks like a tiny cabbage with green curly leaves and streaks of purple.
Essentially, Kalettes combine attributes of Brussels sprouts and kale, resulting in a sweet and nutty flavor. Mann currently offers them in a foodservice format.
Powerful Sweet Potatoes
From Green Giant Fresh microwavable sweet potatoes to Mann’s fresh Family Favorites Sweet Potatoes in a crinkle-cut presentation, consuming sweet potatoes has never been easier.
What makes sweet potatoes super? In addition to having a low glycemic index, sweet potatoes contain protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, folate, and vitamins C and A. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes with that of other vegetables. In terms of fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the Washington, D.C.-based center found the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value.
“I’m seeing a tremendous amount of interest in sweet potato consumption, based on their nutritional facts, flavor and versatility,” observes George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. Inc., in Chadbourn, N.C., which supplies sweet potatoes to Green Giant Fresh and ships under its own label, George Foods. “It’s just happened in the last seven to eight years that this excitement for sweet potatoes has really ramped up.”
When it comes to sweet potatoes, suppliers are hoping that what’s old is new again. “In 1930, the annual consumption of sweet potatoes was 28.5 pounds per person,” notes Wooten. That same year, the consumption of white potatoes was 130 pounds per person, and remains approximately so today.
Between 1930 and 1993, sweet potato consumption in the United States dropped to just 3.8 pounds per person, continues Wooten. But as of 2012, that number increased to 7.2 pounds per person.
“It’s hard to go any day of the week without seeing something about sweet potatoes on television,” says Wooten, counting Rachael Ray, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Oz as fans.
This outpouring of affection for the health benefits and flavor profile of sweet potatoes is helping to rebuild sales of the once spectacularly successful spud.
“I see sales of sweet potatoes on the rise,” asserts Wooten. “I don’t know if consumption will ever get back to 28 pounds per person, but I can see it doubling in the next few years.”