In March, the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) surveyed consumers to explore relative interest in a variety of super-fruit foods. These foods were broad-based applications that relied on dried and frozen fruit and, to a lesser degree, juice (none used fresh fruit); were available year-round; and were consumed with great frequency throughout the day. In every category, from scones to green salad to yogurt parfaits, cherries were primed to grow. Dried fruit, it seemed from the survey, had almost unlimited potential for ingredient usage across multiple channels.
To help promote tart cherries and showcase how their unique flavor, nutrition, and naturally functional properties are right on target with consumers’ food and beverage demands, CMI teamed up with food industry trends expert Dr. A. Elizabeth Sloan to develop “The Red Report: Why Tart Cherries Are On Trend.” The report specifically looks at five key trends that align tart cherries with a unique advantage when it comes to new-product and menu development.
1. A Naturally Functional Super Fruit
As consumers continue to look to their diet as a means of health, super fruits, which deliver nutrients and health benefits naturally, are key to maintaining good health. Tart cherries are a naturally functional powerhouse and are rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which give cherries their bright red color. These properties match what consumers want from their food; eight in 10 consumers believe that foods have active components that help with health issues, 74 percent think they can reduce the risk of disease, and 56 percent replace some drugs with super fruits, according to a 2009 HealthFocus International report, “U.S. Trend Study.” In fact, last year, 53 percent of consumers purchased a specific food or beverage for its antioxidant content, according to Packaged Facts.
2. Delivering In-Demand “New Nutrients”
Tart cherries deliver “new nutrients” that cutting-edge consumers increasingly crave, including potassium, magnesium, and beta carotene (vitamin A), which is believed to support eye health. Virtually all age and gender groups do not get enough potassium, one of the “nutrients of concern” identified in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And tart cherries, with their beta carotene content that is 19 times the level of blueberries and strawberries, can help make the illusive eye-health market a reality for food marketers.
3. Because Tart is the New Sweet
While sweet is still a preferred flavor, tart and sour profiles are also in demand. With a unique sweet-tart flavor, tart cherries can provide a winning taste to any product or dish. With nearly one in three (29 percent) consumers going to a restaurant specifically to try new flavors—37 percent of whom are aged 18–24—according to “MarketBriefing” by Technomic, tart cherries’ unique flavor and nutritional properties can be an important tool in enticing diners back to restaurants after three consecutive years of sales declines. Healthy options in kids’ meals; locally sourced produce; smoothies; lower sodium, calorie, and fat items; and flavored/enhanced water are among the top 20 “hot” menu items in fast food for 2011, as stated in “Attitudes Towards Dining Out” by Mintel, and tart cherries can play a critical role in each.
4. A Truly American Super Fruit
Americana, characterized by a diversity of factors ranging from local- and farm-raised foods to American regional cuisines, will be among the most promising food industry trends over the next decade, according to Sloan’s “Top 10 Food Trends” published in Food Technology. With their strong American heritage and year-round availability as dried, frozen, juice, and juice concentrate forms, tart cherries can bring a local edge to nearly any food or drink. Approximately 94 percent of cherries consumed in the U.S. are grown here. Michigan grows the most cherries, producing 70–75 percent of the crop each year. Other states with commercial crops of cherries include Utah, New York, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, and Pennsylvania
5. Technical Advantages Delivered Naturally
Tart cherry ingredients can deliver natural technical advantages for some of today’s toughest product-development challenges, such as clean ingredient labels, extending the shelf life of food, keeping baked goods moist and mold free, reducing fat and sodium, and the safe elimination of some food additives. Corporate new-beverage developers—who generally set the pace for the food industry—identified natural as the top “high need/interest” among the latest trends essential to new-beverage development in 2011, according to the “New Product Development Survey” conducted by Beverage Industry. Beyond the flavor, color, fruit content and nutrient profile, tart cherries can naturally provide a wide range of functional properties to a variety of food and beverage products—and help to provide a more natural, healthful, and less chemical label profile.