Açai (Euterpe oleracea, Mart.) is a palm tree that grows in South America whose fruit are packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, fat, and antioxidant anthocyanins and phenolics. Açai fruit pulp has gained recognition as a so-called ‘super fruit’ and international commercialization began in the 1990s. The United States is the main export market for Brazilian açai pulp.
The researchers of the new study, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the University of California at Davis, and Embrapa Labex Europe in France, realized that there had been no investigations of consumer preferences for açai products in the US.
Such data can be useful for formulators and marketers when developing and launching new functional food products, where awareness about the benefits and sensory attributes determine their success.
The study involved 155 consumers, who were recruited around the campus of the University of California in Davis and at a nearby farmers’ market. Most of the participants were female, 64% were students, and 45% had a family income of less than $50,000 a year. The average age was 31.
The participants were given samples of seven commercially-available açai-based products: One energy drink; three juices; one sorbet; and two smoothies. They ranked their overall liking on a 9-point hedonic scale, as well as their liking for appearance, color, odor, flavor, mouthfeel and aftertaste.
Intention to purchase was measured on a 7-point scale; tendency to avoid unfamiliar foods was assessed using the Food Neophobia Scale; and healthy eating interest using the General Health Interest sub-scale. The participants also completed a lifestyle questionnaire.
They found that liking was driven by flavor and aftertaste, rather than other attributes.
The researchers concluded:
“The results were encouraging and allowed one to discern distinctly that there is a possible market for açai-based products in young or older, female, food neophilic, and health-conscious consumers. Products such as sorbet and juices may be promising alternatives to the Californian market.”
Alex Schauss, senior research director at AIBMR Life Sciences, said as the study was limited to just 155 people from the same town there is not much value in extrapolating the results to different markets. He also noted that the leading brand, MonaVie, sold through network marketing, was excluded. Also, many of the retail products contained sweeteners, which produce a different mouthfeel to products sweetened with other fruits and berries.
However he added: “Personally, I think that there will be a continued increase in incorporating
açai into a wide range of consumer products, beyond juices, smoothies, etc – into bars, cosmetics, and dried fruit products...
“To me, blueberries and açai, are appearing to be the leaders in the superfruit category.”
Schauss said there has been a sharp increase in research on açai in the last six years. Recent studies of interest include an investigation of a role in preventing neurodegenerative disease, and of antioxidant protective effects in human cells.
Food Research International
‘Preferences and attitudes towards açaí-based products among North American consumers’
Authors: Menezes, E; Deliza, R; Chan, HL; Guinard, J-X