Baobab has rosy outlook in 2017 thanks to rise of prebiotics, says Kaibae founder

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock
California-based Kaibae started four years ago as a pure baobab fruit powder brand, and founder Dr Luc Maes says that with the rise of pre- and probiotics, there’s a big opportunity for baobab inclusion to increase this year.

“I think every ingredient has its trajectory, and the awareness of baobab has taken definitely more time than turmeric,” ​Dr Maes told NutraIngredients-USA. “Just to give you an example, we introduced [our product] to Whole Foods two years ago and they’ve never even heard of it.”

There was a lot of buzz that baobab would kick-off and become the next ‘super’ ingredient after it was approved as a US food ingredient in 2009​. 

On paper, the ingredient seems to hit all the high notes for what consumers today demand—it’s foraged wildly by small farmers, nutrient-dense, many suppliers have it USDA organic certified, and its slightly sweet with research showing it to be low-glycemic​.

But awareness around the tree’s fruit, leaves, or seed oil hasn’t yet peaked and has remained stagnant. A very different fate from açai berries, which Google Trends​ shows skyrocketed in 2009, or turmeric, which has enjoyed a steady incline of searches starting 2012 and accelerated throughout 2016. 

Searches for Baobab (blue) have been stagnant compared to other trending health ingredients: Turmeric (red) and acai (yellow). Google Trends

“You talk about one of the oldest, most remote trees on the planet that grows wild, so it’s hard to market baobab,” ​said Barbara Maes, Luc’s wife. “For people like us—my husband’s a doctor who fell in love with the tree and his partner is a humanitarian, our mission was that we made a difference with the communities and then bring [baobab to the US], so it takes a while.”

A push from popular culture—and prebiotics

With the rise of probiotics and prebiotics, Dr Maes believes that this is a ‘huge’ opportunity to promote baobab. “With more and more research on the microbiome and that we’re learning about prebiotics as the staple for probiotics to flourishin that sense that’s why I like baobab so much, it supports the gut,” ​he said.

“Traditionally, baobab was used for dysentery and a variety of digestive complaints. Now we’re seeing more science suggesting its prebiotic benefits. I think baobab will find its growth in that category.”

Kaibae’s most popular retail product, a pouch of pure baobab fruit powder, sells for around $29 and can be found in South California independent health food stores as well as Whole Foods around the country. As a wholesaler, Kaibae has seen an uptick of demand from local juice and smoothie places.

Barbara pointed out that a few references to baobab in popular culture these recent years have also pushed baobab’s popularity, such as the 2015 animated film version of The Little Prince​.

“And in 2016, the San Diego Zoo began celebrating it's 100-year anniversary with a new African exhibit with a habitat for African plant and animal species featuring the Baobab Tree,”​ she added. “We’ve had this company for four years, but it’s in the last three months [when] our phones are going crazy.”

Gazing into the crystal ball: Kaibae in 2017

This year, the company is hoping to expand its offerings to “not only baobab, but ‘lost crops,’” ​Dr Maes said, using his term for describing plants with a unique nutrition profile that are undervalued, but can create economic development if it were harnessed.

He emulates the outdoor company Patagonia in operating Kaibae and establishing its mission. “Every product we make has an impact not just on health but also the environment, that’s what I admire from Patagonia,” ​he said.

As a wholesaler, his baobab fruit powder has been most popular especially in the local foodservice sector, but he said there will be an increase in CPG inclusion. “More CPG companies are now starting to incorporate it, you’ll see [at Expo West 2017],” ​he added. “These are accounts that we’ve been working really really hard on for a long time, and this year they’re finally coming to fruition.”

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