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SunOpta to quadruple antioxidant-rich açai supply

By Lorraine Heller , 08-Sep-2006

Natural food group SunOpta is to quadruple its sales of the açai berry in North America, revealing that the Brazilian berry is the most popular fruit ingredient with its customers.

The company expects to increase its açai business to around $4m over the next year, as demand soars for the ingredient on the back of its unique health benefits.

Harvested by hand and processed within 24 hours from the Amazon in Brazil, the açai berry has the highest antioxidants of any fruit in the world. Antioxidants are compounds that may help inhibit premature aging, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer disease by neutralizing free radicals.

The berry also provides a blend of essential amino acids along with a high level of omega fatty acids and vitamins.

And although supply for the berry is tight, SunOpta chief executive officer Jeremy Kendall said the company's supply for next year is guaranteed.

In fact, the company expects to increase its açai business "significantly" again as from the next growing season. By this time, its main supplier California-based Sambazon Açai will have completed another processing plant in Brazil, meaning that it will be able to increase its distribution.

"This is a really booming business, it's a very popular item. But basically there isn't enough supply. You can sell everything you can get your hands on today," Kendall told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

Sambazon, one of SunOpta's two suppliers of the berry, will be providing the majority of the company's increased supplies for the new growing season.

"The açai frozen pulp is sold to food manufacturers as an ingredient in fruit juices, smoothie blends, and soy and dairy applications such as sorbets. It has become the most sought after fruit from our base of customers because of its unique health benefits" said Joseph Stern, executive vice president of SunOpta's Fruit Group, which imports the açai from Brazil.

SunOpta also announced yesterday that its Canadian food distribution group has signed an exclusive agreement to market the Belizza line of açai and pomegranate sorbets, which are expected to add a further $1m in revenue.

The firm first announced in November last year that it would distribute organic açai pulp produced by Sambazon to food and beverage manufacturers across North America

Sambazon sources wild-harvested açai berries from the Brazilian Amazon and the pulp is then quick frozen to retain their nutritional properties. The fruit contains a very high concentration of anthocyanins, as well as protein, fiber, and omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.

Sambazon was founded in 2000 and claims to be the first company to bring the berry from the Amazon to North America. It currently makes a range of smoothies, concentrates and capsules containing the fruit, for sale in major retail stores and juice bars including Whole Foods, Wild Oats, Vitamin Shoppe and GNC.

The firm operates a fair trade supply chain that benefits local families and protects the biodiversity of the Amazon Rainforest.

SunOpta said the açai berries it imports are harvested in a sustainable manner, creating jobs in the Amazon and preserving the Rain Forest. A portion of the fruit price goes back to the indigenous peoples in the Amazon to help support schools and provide books and other educational tools to children.

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