It’s no secret superfoods have taken a supersized role in the marketing of trending, health-centered food products.
The term “superfoods” is used to recognize a group of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and flavorings that are believed to confer a variety of health benefits. It’s not officially recognized by U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it is recognizable to increasingly health-minded consumers looking to supercharge their diets.
Merriam-Webster has even added “superfoods” to its dictionary, citing the first use in 1915. It defines the term as “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person's health.”
I first encountered the term when I interned at Candy Industry in 2012. At the time, putting blueberries, pomegranate and açai in chocolate was popular, and products with those ingredients are still on the shelves seven years later.
While berries, along with almonds, avocados and kale, have perennial spots on the superfoods list, the remaining cast of characters seems to rotate. The use of turmeric, for example, has grown over the last couple years, thanks to its potential anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
In a recent blog post, the NPD Group outlined three “emerging superfoods” the research firm is tracking due to increased interest in them. The first, not shockingly, is a berry — elderberry. It’s said to contain antioxidants and can help relieve colds and the flu.
Another no-brainer is CBD, which has become buzzworthy in its own right. Available in oils, tinctures, vapor and edibles, the cannabis component is said to help ease pain, insomnia and anxiety. Though it’s not federally legal to incorporate CBD into food at this point, the FDA is in the process of reviewing its status because of pressure from manufacturers and state governments.
The NPD Group also listed Manuka honey as an upcoming superfood. Collected from the Manuka flower, its perceived benefits are wound healing, soothing a sore throat and improving digestion, among others.
Other contenders include reishi mushrooms, ashwagandha herb and microgreens. The Harvard School of Public Health also pointed to pea protein, seaweed and ginger as trending health foods.
No matter which superfoods are making headlines, staying on top of the trends can help food manufacturers make informed decisions for new product launches, says Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst.
“There are a variety of superfoods, like kale, quinoa, and acai berry, that have mainstreamed and found their way into a myriad of foods,” he said. “Rather than being one of many offering a superfood, understanding the trajectory of emerging superfoods helps food marketers be ahead of the curve in making calculated decisions about new product investments.”
Predicting the future of food — now that’s a super power.