Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
They started on celebrities’ websites. The rich and fashionable whizzed them into smoothies, stirred them into oatmeal and sprinkled them over salads. The surprise is that superfood powders such as spirulina, cacao, chia and ground baobab fruits have moved beyond Hollywood and the health food stores to land at your local supermarket. Asda sells Naturya maca powder, Tesco online sells Bioglan Superfood super-greens powder and Lidl has milled linseed with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, goji berries and chia seeds.
I KNOW BROCCOLI AND BLUEBERRIES ARE SUPERFOODS. ARE THESE THE GROUND-UP VERSIONS?
No, though greens and berries do figure. There’s no official definition of a superfood. Respected nutrition therapist and food writer, Ian Marber, cynically says it’s any food with a marketing department and preferably from the Amazon. Superfood powders are dehydrated, freeze dried or finely milled versions of nutrient-dense seeds, roots, leaves and berries. They could be chlorella and spirulina (both algae), wheatgrass, barley grass, kale or simply super-greens combining some or all of them.
Other examples are Brazilian goji berries said to boost the immune system and brain activity, or sweet, malty maca, also known as Peruvian ginseng and alleged to boost your energy.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE TREND?
Clean eating. Social media influencers have inspired health-conscious, younger consumers to eat highly nutritious foods to make up for their busy lifestyles. A typical ‘clean’ dessert would be Gato & Co’s chocolate aubergine fondant which contains raw cacao, almonds and spirulina. The aim is to reach beyond good health towards positive wellness.
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE?
It’s expensive. At £10 for 70g, Tesco’s super-greens powder works out at nearly £143 a kilo for seven servings. We may be wasting our money since dietitians report that tests used small samples or very high concentrations of the wonder ingredient. They also say our bodies work best on fibre.
Another downside is taste. “Mixed in water by itself, a supergreens powder is rather unpalatable, giving off a distinctly earthy, fishtank fragrance” wrote journalist Charlotte Sinclair in the Telegraph online. Sales of cacao powder remain steady because it masks the pondy flavours and colour of say, chlorella, and makes smoothies more luxurious.
DO WHEY PROTEIN POWDERS COUNT?
Sure they do. Protein is king. Athletes and everyday exercisers use it in shakes and smoothies. It’s a bonus if a superfood like chia or matcha contains protein naturally; vegans, vegetarians and the lactose intolerant can use it to pack more protein into a plant-based diet. Chia seeds contain all the essential amino acids as does moringa.
WHO’S A FAN OF THESE POWDERS?
Londoner Emily, 24, who lives with her parents in an affluent suburb is typical. She drinks protein shakes for breakfast and buys the whey powder from MyProtein online. “I can’t 100% say how much good it is doing me as I either go all out on a health kick or don’t bother.” She and her younger sisters have dabbled with: spirulina in their smoothies (doesn’t taste too awful), turmeric (fine if you want your shake to taste of curry), acai and chia, all from Holland & Barrett.
Her grandparents are less likely to use them. A study of 2,000 adults over 60 undertaken by OnePoll for the Chilean Blueberry Committee found over 90% had never tried matcha, over 73% never tried chia seeds and over 62 per cent never tried flax seeds. They preferred to get their vitamins and minerals from more conventional and local sources.
WHEN DO SUPERFOOD POWDERS SELL BEST?
In January when customers start their fitness programme. There’s a dip around Easter followed by increased motivation as summer draws near. There’s another peak in September (Kantar Worldpanel).
HOW CAN WE MAKE THE MOST OF THIS TREND?
If you are not a health food store, you will be out of your comfort zone. Keep an eye on what the supermarkets are stocking and ask your customers what they’d like to buy. Choose the better tasting such as raw cacao or matcha which can be used in shakes, ice cream, lattes and brownies. Go for those with promising science such as turmeric. Ian Marber likes flaxseed, a good source of fibre and Omega 3 and easy to sprinkle over yoghurt or porridge.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT?
Joe Drennan of Spill the Beans, a long established health food store in Dorset, reports that moringa is gaining profile. For those customers who demand the very latest, look out for: ashwagandha, a herb used in ayurvedic medicine to reduce stress; camu camu, said to be very high in vitamin C and antioxidants; and mushroom powder. Mushroom lattes – maca, mushroom, almond milk and coconut sugar – could soon replace turmeric lattes at your coffee shop.
WILL THIS TREND LAST?
Be cautious about ordering wheatgrass, barley grass and kale powder. Drennan reports that sales are not as strong as they were. The trend for protein, preferably 20g per serving, shows no signs of going away. Nor does the power of marketing.