IN THIS EDITON
• Are Superfruits Reall All That Super?
• Restaurant Jobs, Sales Trending Up
• Market for Organic Still Growing Strong
Are Superfruits Really All That Super?
The designation of “superfruit” has been around for a while, generally applied to fruits that are supposedly extra nutritious and a force against cancer, heart disease and other maladies.
Among the fruits classified as “super” are a whole bunch of berries: açai berries, blueberries, yumberries, chokeberries, goji berries, lingonberries, lychee berries—as well as mangosteens, jujube fruit, pomegranates and cupuacus.
Most of these superfruits are rich in antioxidants. But some are starting to argue that what’s really super about these fruits are the PR and marketing that’s been heaped upon them. "’Superfruit’ is just a marketing term," says Gregory Cole, a professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA and associate director of research at the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Geriatrics Center, quoted in a story from the L.A. Times.
While it’s true that superfruits have more antioxidants than an average “regular” fruit, the question becomes, do we really need that extra amount? We just don’t know enough, Cole says. There may be only so many antioxidants your body can absorb. Or maybe your body can absorb them all, but after a point, they don't do you any more good—or may even do you harm.
In fact, recent studies conducted at Kansas State University indicated that a super-abundance of antioxidants can actually interfere with proper muscle function.
Researcher Barbara Hale with the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University says antioxidants are only part of the story with superfruits. She points to the anti-inflammatory properties abundant in many of these fruits, and argues that these may be just as important as the antioxidants.
Blueberries could be called the original superfruit, and they’re back in the news again in 2012—well, two new species are, to be specific. In a study published in 2011, researchers reported on two kinds of wild blueberries native to Central and South America that they're calling "extreme superfruits" because they have two to four times more antioxidants than the common blueberries we’ve all been munching on for the last few years.
For the most part, it’s been the exotic superfruits that have been getting all the media attention in recent years—the açai berries, goji berries, the mangosteen. And those types of fruits have also been getting most of the attention of the researchers.
It’s really not certain that many of the so-called superfruits are that much better for us than the more common fruits like apples, peaches and bananas. "We can't say anything about fruits we haven't studied," Hale says in the L.A. Times article. "Who knows? Maybe the peach is the best thing out there. We don't know, because we haven't studied the peach."
Perhaps coincidentally, Americans’ taste for fruits categorized as “super” appears to be waning a bit.
Superfruits are on the way out, says Dr. Elizabeth Sloan, president of Sloan Trends.
Sloan spoke recently to the Research Chefs Association in San Antonio, Tex., and reported that superfruits’ popularity has diminished in the last two years. “It’s going back to more traditional fruit-like flavors,” she said.
Specifically, Sloan noted that açai berries have dropped from being in the top five most-used flavors in new beverage products in 2009 down to 19th last year. Pomegranate, which had been number one in 2008-2009 slipped all the way to 18th in 2011.
Consumers have begun searching out other ingredients to get antioxidants into their diets--things like herbs and spices, some of which have much higher antioxidant content than superfruits. One teaspoon of cloves, for example, has about the same amount of antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries.
Some of the superfruit flavors have simply lost their buzz, Sloan says. She says the people who were buying them were trendy sorts, folks who weren’t purchasing them for taste, but rather because they were the trendy flavor of the month—thanks in part to all that PR about antioxidants.
Speaking of antioxidants, one leading academic on the subject believes the term“antioxidant” should be banished from food labels and replaced with more specific claims about the health benefits of the phytonutrients and other ingredients.
Dr. Carl Keen, professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California-Davis spoke at the IFT Wellness 2012 conference in Chicago last month. Keen believes the word “antioxidant” is too generic. He told conference attendees “we have to be much more precise in our terminology. We need to know the mechanism for action for these phytonutrients. That’s the way things are going in Europe, and that’s the way I expect things will go in the U.S.”
Restaurant Jobs, Sales Trending Up
The National Restaurant Association reports that restaurants have added more than 560,000 jobs since the beginning of the employment recovery, with more than 200,000 of those positions created in the last six months.
“The restaurant industry strongly contributes to the health of our nation’s economy by driving job growth across industry segments, and providing rewarding career and employment opportunities for millions,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association.
“Whether in the kitchen or the corporate office, restaurants offer a variety of career paths, including one toward the American Dream of entrepreneurship and owning your own business,” she said.
Restaurants added more than 100,000 jobs in two consecutive quarters for the first time on record, according to National Restaurant Association analysis of preliminary figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Eating and drinking places—the primary component of the restaurant industry, which accounts for roughly three-fourths of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce—added 103,100 jobs in the first quarter of 2012, which followed a gain of 101,400 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Since the employment recovery began in March 2010, eating and drinking places have added 562,600 jobs, with current industry staffing levels standing more than 180,000 jobs above the pre-recession peak.
As a result of the steady gains, restaurant job growth easily outpaced the overall economy in recent months. In the 12 months ending March 2012, eating and drinking place employment jumped 3.2 percent, more than double the 1.5 percent increase in total U.S. employment during the same period. In addition, 2012 marks the 13th consecutive year in which restaurant employment growth has outpaced overall employment growth in the United States.
Restaurant job growth could be a good sign for the overall economic outlook for the U.S.
Full-Service Restaurant Sales Up, Too
Moreover, for the 12 months through January 2012 sales at full service restaurants were 8.7 percent higher than the previous 12 months—the fastest growth pace since the late 1990s, when the economy was booming.
Over the past 20 years, stronger growth in full-service restaurant sales and slowing of growth in limited-service sales have generally coincided with growth in gross domestic product/economic improvement, New York Times economic writer Floyd Norris points out. However, Norris also notes that current economic indicators indicate that the economy is growing more slowly than the full-service/limited-service restaurants trend indicator.
Well, we can only hope this is a sign of better—and tastier—things to come in the days ahead.
Market for Organic Still Growing Strong
America’s appetite for organic foods continues to outpace the growth rate of conventional foods. In 2011, the U.S. organic market grew a healthy 9.5 percent, exceeding $30 billion for the first time, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
The U.S. organic retail sector has shown impressive growth for the last several years. It grew by 56 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to market research firm Packaged Facts.
“The U.S. organic sector continues to show steady and healthy growth,” said Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the OTA. “Consumers are increasingly engaged and discerning when they shop, making decisions based on their values and awareness about health and environmental concerns,” she said. “For them, it matters whether foods are genetically engineered, or produced using practices that are good for their families.”
The OTA’s report also noted the consumer confusion over the benefits of organic when compared to other food attributes, such as natural, non-GMO or local.
“Manufacturers that can give consumers a combination of these attributes without a price premium can hit a sweet spot, but when purchasers with limited budget make buying decisions, a cheaper local product often wins over a pricier imported organic option,” the report says.
Online Organic Delivery Service Steps Up
Consumers are finding new and more convenient ways to get organic foods, such as getting it delivered to their doorstep.
A company called Green B.E.A.N. Delivery brings locally grown organic produce directly to consumer’s homes in six Midwestern states. By connecting Midwest food producers with Midwest communities through its year-round home delivery service, the online delivery service has created a sustainable network promoting the health of the community, local economy and the environment. More than 10,000 families use Green B.E.A.N. Delivery, according to the company.
B.E.A.N. is an acronym for the larger initiatives the company is pushing forward:Biodynamic, Education, Agriculture and Nutrition. Green B.E.A.N. Delivery has spawned several sister companies that have been developed to strengthen its multi-faceted approach to advocating sustainability within our current food systems.
Diners are also encountering more organic food choices when eating out, even when going out for pizza.
A pizzeria in Naples, Fla., called Truly Organic Pizza, offers a dozen signature pies made totally from organic ingredients. The restaurant is certified organic and everything from the crust to the cheese to the toppings is 100% organic, as reported in a story on pizzamarketplace.com.
Proprietor Jason Chang, a former resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., and former Wall Street trader, was raised on New York-style pizza. And he wants his operation to be known for great pizza. "I'd rather this be known as having a good all-organic pizza than just an organic pizza that tastes OK. Being a Brooklyn boy means the food has to be good," he said.
The most expensive pizza on the menu is the Carnivore, listed at $26.95. The classic meaty pie features pepperoni, Jason's meatballs and homemade sausage—all organic.
One thing for sure, you no longer have to go to a health food store to find good organic foods. Heck, you may not even need to leave your house.