Dairy Foods talked to:

Brent Bradley, vice president sales and marketing, Graceland Fruit Inc.
Steve Corson, research chef, Northwest Naturals LLC
Jim Degen, consultant, California Dried Plum Board
Kristen Girard, principal food scientist, Ocean Spray ITG
Mike Mulhausen, president, California Custom Fruits and Flavors
Thomas Payne, industry specialist for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council
Tracy Przybylowski, marketing manager, Sweet Ovations
John Sauve, consultant, The Wild Blueberry Association
Mike Smith, food scientist, SensoryEffects Flavor Systems
Karla Stockli, chief executive officer, California Fig Advisory Board
Kasi Sundaresan, scientific and quality specialist, iTi Tropicals Inc.

With an increasing number of consumers focusing on health and wellness, food and beverage formulators are incorporating different varieties of superfruits - an elite group of nutrient-rich fruits recognized as possessing beneficial health properties - into new products. In the dairy category, sometimes the superfruit reinforces a functional product’s healthy image, as in the case of yogurt. Other times superfruits provide permission to indulge, as when they are added to ice cream.

The wild blueberry industry pioneered the world of superfruits in the mid-1990s. Though the term was not coined until the 21st century, the wild blueberry folks were the first to promote the antioxidants and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of fruit, according to John Sauve, managing partner, Swardlick Marketing Group, Portland, Maine, and a consultant to the Wild Blueberry Association. The term superfruit came around in 2004 when Superfoods Rx author Steven Pratt highlighted the antioxidant levels and anti-aging properties of blueberries in his bestseller. And though blueberries are most likely the best-known superfruit today, the list of superfruits is constantly growing, and ranges from the obvious (apple) to the exotic (camu camu).

To gain a better understanding of this evolving category, Dairy Foods talked to 11 experts in the superfruits industry. Here’s what they had to say.

Dairy Foods: What makes a fruit super?

Przybylowski: Traditionally superfruits have been high-antioxidant-containing fruits. Today, a superfruit can be defined as any fruit that brings new nutritional complexities to a product.

Mulhausen: Although superfruit is a term developed for marketing purposes, the very factual, scientific benefits of the rich nutrients within these foods, particularly antioxidants, is undeniable. The term superfruit has gained meaning and popularity with the health-conscious food and beverage consumer.

Degen:  Superfruits are all about antioxidant capacity (measured as its ORAC value) and phenolic composition. Much of the ORAC interest is found in blue- and red-colored fruits that contain high levels of phenols in their skin and pulp. In addition to the consumer’s perception of a superfruit providing some sort of antioxidant benefit, there is also the emphasis on natural. As a food ingredient, the California Dried Plum Board has gone a step further by emphasizing to food processors that the value of dried plums’ antioxidants is more functional and leads to extended food product shelf life by serving as an antimicrobial agent, particularly in animal proteins. More importantly, the antioxidant activity of dried plums works in concert with other benefits, such as moisture retention (due to high levels of fiber and sorbitol in dried plums) and flavor improvement (due to malic acid) to yield functional benefits derived from natural ingredients.

Dairy Foods: What are some superfruits your company sells?

Mulhausen: We use our expertise in fruit sourcing and purchasing to secure superfruit supplies in order to meet the quickly expanding consumer demand for healthy, nutrient-rich products across numerous food and beverage applications, such as yogurt fruit prep and ice cream bases. We’ve been offering old and new favorites, such as pomegranate, blueberry, black currant, acai and cranberry since the superfruit trend began. As a custom developer of stand-alone flavors and bases, we stay on the cutting edge of new flavor trends. We’re constantly taking a proactive approach to the market, and place great importance on offering new and emerging superfruit flavors and bases, such as gogi berry, yumberry, mangosteen, plum and maqui berry.

Sundaresan: Guava, mango, banana - these are the superfruits that have been in the market for a long time. Recently recognized superfruits include acai, mangosteen, acerola, camu camu and papaya, with many more fruits emerging as being “super.”

Bradley: Tart cherries are oldies but goodies that have become one of today’s hottest superfruits, with high antioxidant levels compared to other fruits. A growing body of scientific research links them to reduced risk factors for heart disease, reduced pain and inflammation for those suffering from arthritis and gout, and post-exercise recovery benefits. In addition to dried cherries, we also produce an infused frozen cherry ingredient that will not completely freeze, remaining soft and scoopable, while retaining fruit piece identity and natural color.

Smith: Pomegranate and acai berry have done very well over the past five years. We include these superfruits in ice cream and novelty bases as well as fruit juices. Looking forward, we are formulating innovative products that include mangosteen, goji berry and yumberry, to name a few. SensoryEffects has found success in this category by pairing a superfruit with another, more familiar fruit. With this pairing, the flavor profile can be made more mainstream, and the consumer is more likely to identify with the product.
Stockli: Figs are an ancient fruit and as such play a prominent place in the Mediterranean diet. Recent research has validated that the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved health and decreased risk of chronic disease.

Degen: Drying plums into prunes is literally thousands of years old. Dried plums are available in many forms, including whole, diced, bits, puree, powder and juice concentrate.

Dairy Foods: What guidelines should marketers follow when creating superfruit foods and beverages?

Sauve: The term imparts a promise of some high level of functionality for whoever uses it, sort of a halo effect, with lots of new halos on new and old-time favorite fruits yet to be discovered.

Mulhausen: Because no laws are currently in place to govern health claims surrounding products with superfruits, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the companies that are manufacturing these products to ensure health claims are legitimate and that marketing efforts don’t lead consumers astray. However, superfruit-flavored products are really no different than other flavored products as long as labeling and marketing efforts are executed responsibly. For example, does an orange-flavored chewing gum lead consumers to believe that the gum is an excellent source of vitamin C? For products that are derived from the fruit source and have nutrient product claims, adequate usage levels, employment of correct manufacturing processes and use in proper applications are all integral in maintaining sufficient levels of superfruit benefits.  Companies should set these guidelines, rigidly follow them and be completely open to third-party audits. This level of transparency coupled with product education will help to give the consumer the confidence they need when spending their income on products that they expect to be healthy.

Stockli: Marketers should concentrate on the benefits that a fruit provides. Figs are the only common fruit that has enough fiber to make a fiber claim. Adequate dietary fiber as part of an overall healthy diet helps maintain healthy blood glucose and cholesterol levels and supports heart, digestive and colon health.

Payne: The highbush blueberry industry developed “The Real Blueberry Seal” to help food producers feature real blueberries in their products. It helps buyers - from the ordinary consumer to food professionals - identify real blueberry products. Products must contain real highbush blueberries in any form and use an adequate amount of blueberries as standard in a certain product category. Typically this means that the blueberries can be seen and tasted in the finished product.

Corson: From a research and development perspective, make sure that the formulation has some form of the stated superfruit in it.  Even at a low level you can get some of the nutritional benefits.

Smith: Marketers should understand the amount of fruit or juice that the product delivers per serving. Adding relevant information to the package can be a useful tool. The information can include juice content, equivalent fruit servings and the ORAC value of the product.

Sundaresan: There are no guidelines for superfruit inclusion in foods and beverages. The product should provide the necessary benefits it is touted for and the minimum level of certain nutrients it is advertised for.

Dairy Foods: Why are dairy products an ideal delivery vehicle for many superfruits?

Sauve: The marriage of dairy and fruit, two nutrient-rich food groups that are recommended for greater consumption, need to help each other get into the daily diets of everyone in the country. Fruits will make dairy/milk products taste great, improve their health functionality and most importantly, increase appeal.

Corson: Dairy is a great medium for neutralizing the harsh flavors associated with some of the newer superfruits such as acai, lulo and camu camu. Dairy as a carrier makes these fruits more appealing to the American palate.

Payne: Blueberries have always been popular in ice creams and sorbets and are increasingly finding their way into frozen yogurts, drinkable yogurts, smoothies, sorbets, milkshakes, juices, cheeses and just about any dessert. Blueberry color and texture complement smooth, creamy dairy products. The sweet-tart blueberry flavor is a welcome addition.

Degen: Many of today’s yogurts include ingredients for digestive health. One of them can be dried plums, as dried plums, also known as prunes, have long been associated with maintaining regularity.

Stockli: Combining figs with yogurt provides a perfect balance of fiber and probiotics for digestive synergy. In addition to the unlimited combinations with other fruits or alone in the ubiquitous smoothies, products such as fig paste and fig juice concentrate are easily integrated into ice creams and frozen dairy products. Combined with cheeses of all kinds, they become the prefect appetizer or snack. Puddings and fillings where figs are combined with dairy products like milk and soft cheese are also appealing to kids of all ages. The California fig industry has developed a very smooth fig paste that brings all the great nutrition of figs to many of these products while bypassing any objections to the crunch seeds. All fig pastes and the fig juice concentrate are easily integrated into almost any formula along with other semi-solid or liquid ingredients.

Sundaresan: Yogurt’s healthful halo and its pH make it an ideal vehicle to incorporate superfruits; however, in order to preserve nutritive characteristics, the fruit should be added at the end of processing. Care should be taken with fruits like papaya, which contains the enzyme papain. The fruit papaya should be added after the yogurt is set, as the papain will prevent the yogurt from setting if added in the beginning.

Girard: Fruits marry well with dairy products, adding color, taste and health benefits. Vaccinium macrocarpon cranberries, with their characteristic sweet, tart taste are a perfect partner and can be used in both puree and sweetened dried form. Cranberry puree adds luscious deep swirls to dairy applications and the rich texture survives the rigors of processing, combining well with yogurts, ice creams and fruit preparations. One of the fastest-growing product areas in recent years, which is perfect for puree, has been the smoothie. The attractive red color of cranberry makes it a popular flavor and its high level of acidity works well to blend with other flavors. For a sophisticated twist, sweetened dried cranberries can be added to cheese products - the sweet, tart cranberry flavor is a perfect complement to savory cheese notes.

Dairy Foods: Are there processing and packaging conditions that must be considered?

Smith: As always, protein stability should be considered when adding high-acid fruits to dairy products.

Girard: Fruit is notoriously difficult to process, with manufacturers turning to freeze dried, gummy and crystallized options to avoid moisture and color migration. Cranberries, however, are very process tolerant and able to withstand high temperatures throughout the manufacturing process. This means manufacturers can retain the benefits of using real fruit, without any of the associated processing problems.

Stockli: Aside from sometimes needing to condition dry figs initially, adding fruits, especially dried fruits such as whole or chopped figs, or fig paste or juice concentrate to dairy products should not require extraordinary processing or packaging conditions.

Bradley: How a fruit is processed could certainly affect the levels of phytonutrients - sometimes decreasing the amount and sometimes even increasing the amounts. We’re just starting to understand exactly how different types of processing affects the powerful compounds in cherries and other fruits, but we do know careful handling and processing is always important. 

Sundaresan: Processing and packaging instructions are specific to fruits. For example, a good part of the antioxidant power of acai comes from anthocyanins. These anthocyanins are very sensitive to heat, and they start to degenerate at high temperatures. Thus the fruits should be processed gently as most antioxidants are sensitive to heat. Also, acai has a very high amount of fat and is prone to rancidity and changes in color, so it should be stored at low temperatures and in the absence of oxygen.

Dairy Foods: When you look inside your crystal ball, what is the future of superfruits in dairy foods applications?

Sauve: First, it’s not at all crystal. It’s colored. And it’s not about superfruits, it’s about colorful fruits (and veggies). As Michael Pollan just said in his new book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, “eat your colors.” While the fruit ingredient business sees dairy as a new or expandable carrier of its products, the dairy industry should see fruits as a marketing vehicle to build appeal for fluid milk and other dairy-based products.

Bradley: Consumers want natural solutions for everyday wellness and real health problems, and science suggests that superfruits can help. The “fruit and veggie gap” isn’t shrinking and superfruit/dairy products could be a great vehicle to make an impact in this area.

Przybylowski: With increased emphasis on health and well-being, superfruits will remain on the horizon in dairy foods. Expect them to become more mainstream, as well as be used in combination with other more familiar fruits. Consumers are becoming educated on these items and will seek them out

Mulhausen: The fact that there are so many discussions surrounding healthy consumption is very encouraging, and superfruits have certainly been established as some of the leading ingredients in the good-for-you movement. Additional, equally exotic fruits will be sourced, researched, and brought to the forefront of the market, much like pomegranate and acai. As the trend towards health and wellness rages on, dairy and superfruit combinations will come in convenient, portion-controlled forms. Drinkable yogurts, single-serve flavored milks and frozen dessert novelties will provide a healthy boost for kids and an intelligent, on-the-go snack or meal replacement for busy adults. We are now working on developments across food and beverage categories that go beyond pomegranate and acai including new and emerging superfruits, such as gogi berry, yumberry, mangosteen, plum and maqui berry.

Payne: The term superfruit will continue to direct consumers’ attention to ingredients that they might not otherwise notice. 

What is ORAC?

Oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in fruit and other living systems. The higher the ORAC value, the greater is the antioxidant capacity, and thus the greater the health and wellness benefit. When comparing ORAC data, care must be taken to ensure that the units and food being compared are similar.

Superfruit Flavor Suppliers

• While superfruits promise antioxidant nutrition, combining the senses of adventure and well being, they often need to be combined with traditional flavors to gain consumer acceptance in products ranging from dairy to beverages. As basic as strawberry and lemon, as exotic as dragon fruit and maqui, Comax Flavors not only offers a complete library of sweet flavors but the expertise required to wield them with confidence and success.www.comaxflavors.com

• Superfruit flavors lend a healthy halo to foods and beverages, while also satisfying consumer desire for new flavor experiences. Many consumers are also intrigued by the notion of “culinary travel” and fruits from faraway lands. Robertet research initiatives focus on sourcing and acquiring freshly harvested tropical fruits, allowing combined analytical and creative efforts to recreate authentic natural flavors. We invite you to explore the category and taste the world of flavor possibilities.www.robertet.com

• Wild Flavors Inc. offers vast expertise in identifying and sourcing superfruit juices, formulating finished products with these juices, and developing flavors that complement as well as enhance the unique tastes of these fruits. Wild can help you formulate your product to best utilize the health and taste benefits of mainstream fruits such as blueberry, pomegranate, aronia and acai, to emerging offerings like baobab, yumberry, acerola, bilberry and cupuacu. We specialize in working with our beverage and dairy customers to determine the best superfruit product fit while preserving cost and great taste.www.wildflavors.com