Cherry Marketing Institute is seeking to promote cherries for use in health foods on the basis of their antioxidant properties, signalling a new direction for a fruit most commonly associated with fat-laden pies and desserts.
Funded by North American tart cherry growers and processors, the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) has taken on Jeff Manning - the man behind the milk campaign phase, "Got milk?" - to give its cherries healthier relevance for consumers.
The cherry industry's efforts to push forward cherries into the health arena were hampered previously when the United States Food & Drug Administration issued a warning over health claims it was making.
In October 2005 the federal agency sent warning letters to 29 companies it said made unsubstantiated health claims on their websites and labels for products containing cherries.
The most common claims made on the companies' websites were that cherries contain potent anticancer agents, can relieve pain of gout or arthritis, and are beneficial for heart health.
The communication effort for tart cherries involves the launch today of an information website, choosecherries.com, which contains a review of scientific evidence on cherries and health in the form of the Cherry Nutrition Report. Areas of research include heart health, melatonin content, cancer risk reduction, diabetes, and inflammation.
CMI does not attach claims to any specific products.
The website also claims cherries are "not just another berry", and calls them "the new superfruit".
The superfruit moniker is one that has been adopted by a number of other fruits in recent times, such as cranberry and some that are less familar in Western markets, like acai, noni, goji.
According to CMI, Manning brought milk from a product that was losing market shares in the 1990s to a brand capable of competing with the likes of Coke today.
CMI cites research behind Montmorency tart cherries that points to their high ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) values.
A number of studies suggest health benefits in cherries. These include the work of Russel Reiter and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Center, who detected high levels of the anti-oxidant melatonin, understood to function as a free-radical scavenger, in tart cherries.
Members of CMI were in New York to launch the cherry promotional campaign and were not available to speak with NutraIngredients-USA.