Getting your daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables seems easy, yet as most nutrition experts will admit, few Americans are doing it. In spite of efforts by such dedicated groups as the Produce For Better Health Foundation (www.5aday.org) and the American Dietetic Assn. (www.eatright.org), the average American is only eating about half this recommended minimum.
That’s where the recent generation of innovative ingredient manufacturers and food and beverage processors comes in. Through more sophisticated methods of processing and concentrating, fruits and vegetables are becoming powders, extracts and super-concentrates.
Processors in turn are creating products that add the nutritional value and flavor of produce to a greater variety of products — including ones normally not associated with produce. Consumers are finding vegetables in beverages, fruits in savory products and vegetables in sweet cereals. Some manufacturers also are pushing the nutrient-density envelope, cramming a day’s worth of fruits and veggies into a single meal — or even single item.
“It’s gratifying that over the past 10 years, food scientists, nutritionists and dietitians have become more aware of the positive health benefits associated with the active components of fruit, vegetable and other plant-based concentrates,” says Winston Boyd, vice-president and chief chemist at Lawrence Foods (www.lawrencefoods.com), Elk Grove Village, Ill. “When you express and minimally process whole fruits and vegetables, you concentrate a good deal of the goodness in the form of vitamins, phytochemicals and other micronutrients.”
There is more demand for a broader range of plant-derived ingredients than ever before, he and others say.
While traditional fruits like orange, apple and strawberry and traditional vegetables like tomato and carrot are still popular, there has been a significant shift toward the exotic and adventurous world of “superfruits and super vegetables.” Pomegranate, goji, açai, mangosteen are some of the most popular fruits used in new beverage launches and there is growing awareness of the beneficial power of vegetables like that of cabbage and broccoli.
An indication of the strength and direction of the trend is that processors are seeking high-quality fruit, vegetable and other botanical ingredients “from geographically diverse areas, including Asia, South America, North Africa and elsewhere,” says Antoine Dauby, group marketing manager for Naturex Inc. (www.naturex.com), a South Hackensack, N.J., supplier of plant extracts.
Dauby anticipates increased demand for South African and Amazonian products, as both areas are extraordinarily rich in medicinal and aromatic plant products.
One of the main drivers of the resurgent use of concentrated fruits has been the interest in exotic superfruits coming out of the Amazon regions, especially Brazil. Sambazon Inc. (www.sambazon.com), San Clemente, Calif., broke open the floodgates on exotic fruit concentrates by putting açai on the map.
Sambazon instantly became the lead provider of powder and concentrated fruit pulp for this trailblazing superfruit. There’s a reason fruits such as açai, acerola and other foreign exotics usually arrive here in processed forms: Rules of importation of fresh produce are highly restrictive. Some countries, such as Brazil, do not allow whole fruit or fruit seeds out of the country. Some fruits from Asia are not allowed into the U.S.
Claiming to be “the most powerful antioxidant beverage on the planet,” Purple7 contains, as the name implies, seven purple or dark red fruits full of antioxidants.
Taking a page from PomWonderful, with its successful promotion of pomegranate juice, Sambazon started out with a popular line of açai beverages for retail. Today, beverage companies from the now-mainstream Vitaminwater (owned by Coca Cola Co.) to boutique companies such as Purple Beverage Co. (www.drinkpurple.com), Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., makers of “the most powerful antioxidant beverage on the planet,” rely on concentrated fruit ingredients such as extracts, pulps and powders as key aspects of their trendsetting arsenal.
In addition to beverages, bars are a popular medium for fruit and vegetable concentrates. Perhaps the epitome is the Think5 nutrition bar, which contains five cups of fruits and vegetables in a single bar.
“The American population is starving themselves of fruits and vegetables,” declares Yianna Xenakis, director of sales and marketing for Thinkproducts (www.thinkproducts.com), Ventura, Calif.