Research and marketing savvy vital for the rise of ‘superveg’

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

As manufacturers clamor to discover and make use of super fruits in their functional food formulations, consumer perception and limited research are currently preventing the advent of ‘superveg', according to some experts.

In the hunt for so-called ‘superveg’ that may be able rival the current popularity of fruits like acai and pomegranates, Professor Jeya Henry of Oxford Brookes University, England, said innovation was a key challenge for the industry.

Henry, who heads the university’s Functional Food Centre, said that vegetables needed a two-pronged strategy from the industry in regards to clinical research and marketing to entice consumers and processors to make greater use of the products.

He added that there is already some research into the potential health benefits of broccoli and spinach in food products, but a wider societal push is needed to make the products seem not only healthy, but appealing and exciting as well.

The fruit paradigm

Henry said that, when it comes to ‘superfoods’, there is clearly much more emphasis on the fruit paradigm than vegetables. Fruits, he suggested, are often much more accessible and pleasant to use, taste, smell and even feel, than vegetables.

“If you juxtapose an apple with spinach, it is true that vegetables often appear a poor elective for fruit when searching for your recommended five-a-day,”​ he stated.

In trying to balance the calls held by various health organizations to consume five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day to include more options like carrots or cabbage as well as apples and pears, education is required for industry and the consumer, said Henry.

“Not just processors, but NGOs, chefs and even parents need to reassess how to take vegetables and make them taste better,”​ he suggested.

Discovery

Stewart Rose, vice president of the US non-profit organization, Vegetarians of Washington told FoodNavigator-USA.com that similar interest for exotic and exciting vegetables that could match super fruits like goji berries.

Rose suggested that Okra, also known as ‘Ladies Fingers’, and certain Chinese cabbages are increasingly being studied and seen as a popular new vegetable to spice up the taste and nutrition benefits of dishes.

However, in the hunt for potential ‘supervegetables’, Vegetarians of Washington suggested that there are currently few crops that hadveconsistent scientific backing for using health claims besides products like broccoli.

Rose said that, as a result, this made selling certain products and ingredients as ‘superveg’ on the basis of limited levels of clinical research a gamble for manufacturers.

He pointed to recent falls in the popularity of carrots in the US following mixed research into the potential benefits and dangers of the vitamin A precursor beta carotene that is derived from the vegetable.

Rose claimed that, while a single study praising the potential benefits of a vegetable had been shown to see demand balloon positively, similar negative research could hit sales just as quickly.

“Research is a sword that can cut both ways,”​ he stated. “Specific super claims do not always hold up, so manufacturers or companies that market on limited grounds should be aware of potential falls.”

Despite the possible difficulties, Vegetarians of Washington said that there was growing interest in the US for the possibility of ‘superveg’, particularly in the aging baby boomer demographic that dominates US food demand.

Rose claimed that the potential of vegetables for use in increasingly popular nutraceutical and functional food products means further promotion and research was viable.

Related topics: Markets

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