Natural, native and healthy: Latin America’s rising star superfoods

3 Jul 2020

From açaí to quinoa, chia to maqui, native Latin American superfoods give products a healthy, wholefood halo– and the region has plenty of undiscovered superfoods waiting to be commercialized, says one expert.

In a region with such varied landscapes and biodiversity, it is not surprising that some of the most popular superfoods sold around the world are native to Latin America. But how are these ingredients perceived among Latin American consumers?

Natural, native and healthy: Latin America’s rising star superfoods

“Although I don’t see the term ‘superfood’ appearing here as often as it appears in the US, these ingredients have become quite common in food recipes in Latin America and some, such as quinoa and chia, have almost become a kind of staple ingredient in categories like bread,” said Cristina Leonhardt, head of marketing and innovation at Brazilian food consultancy Tacta Food School. “So, we can assume that the Latin American consumer knows these ingredients and is willing to try them or even expect them to be present in some foods.”

In some Latin American countries, the superfood in question may be anchored in culinary traditions and consumers might not be used to seeing it in packaged foods. In Ecuador, for instance, the nutritious pseudo-grain quinoa is used almost exclusively in soup.

When Ecuadorian company LiveKuna first launched its products, it invested in a social media campaign to inform people about other ways to incorporate quinoa and chia seeds in the diet – such as its puffed snacks and breakfast cereals.

According to Leonhardt, superfood ingredients enjoy a kind of generalized health halo rather than close associations with specific nutrients or health claims.

“In Brazil, at least, I don’t see that these ingredients are used because of some specific nutrient, but more because the whole ingredient is associated with healthier eating,” she said. “Açaí has long been associated with a healthy, sports lifestyle and the fact that it is packed with antioxidants doesn’t hurt but I don’t see that as the major driver in its consumption here.”
Finding the next superfood superstar

Do Latin American consumers prefer local or native superfoods that they already know, such as açaí in Brazil or maqui berries in Chile, or is there demand for new, emerging superfoods?

This is ‘the million-dollar question’, said Leonhardt.

“Some local ingredients have become very common in their countries but we can also see that there is room for new good-for-you, superfood ingredients from other regions [such as] moringa, green tea and goji berry,” she said.

“We should not forget that we host, as a region, the biggest diversity in the world, much of it unknown. So, my bet is that there is still a lot to be found and researched in the Amazon or the Cerrado region.”

Many of the fruits, nuts, and seeds that Leonhardt namechecked as potential superfoods from Brazil are unheard of elsewere, from pequi, a pulpy orange fruit that resembles mangosteen to licuru, a native Brazilian coconut; or from jabuticaba, a grape-like fruit, to babassu, an oil-rich palm nut with a slight almond flavour.

To increase consumer acceptability, companies could blend new, unknown ingredients with more established ones.
Premium condiment maker SoulBrasil works with indigenous communities to source the native Amazonian ingredients for its jams, chili sauces and fruit-based vinegars. It blends well-known superfoods such as açaí, guarana, acerola, and mango with lesser-known ingredients such as tonka bean, murupi pepper, and jiquitaia pepper.
Sustainable sourcing

In all cases, responsible and sustainable sourcing must be a key priority for suppliers and manufacturers alike, Leonhardt said.

“There’ll be no escape from sustainability. [It] will have to be considered inside the R&D processes, if it is not already,” she told the Ingredients Network. “So, even though the concern is still growing, we should already be sourcing our ingredients from sustainable supply chains – which is even more important for any ingredient attached to a traditional community, such as the case for açaí and baru nuts.”

Some Latin American superfood start-ups have put sustainability at the heart of their business models.

Rio de Janeiro-headquartered company Juçaí makes an organic sorbet using berries from the juçara palm (Euterpe edulis Mart.), a tree native to the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. The juçara palm is endangered because its heart is considered a delicacy but once the heart is harvested, the palm dies.

By paying fruit pickers more for the berries than they would receive for the heart, distributing palm seeds to farmers for free, and investing in a reforestation programme, the B Corp-certified company aims to get the juçara palm off the endangered list within a decade – and dethrone açaí as Brazil’s favourite superberry.

Related news

China’s self-heating trend heats up ready meal category

China’s self-heating trend heats up ready meal category

21 Sep 2020

Self-heating ready meals are experiencing a boom in China, catering to the country’s ‘lazy economy’, and Mintel estimates its market value will double in coming years.

Read more 
Spike in counterfeit goods could damage ‘Make in India’ initiative, warns report

Spike in counterfeit goods could damage ‘Make in India’ initiative, warns report

14 Sep 2020

Counterfeit products are rising in India and fast-moving consumer goods, including food, is in the top three worst-hit sectors. Greater traceability is needed to safeguard the national ‘Make in India’ initiative, says an industry report.

Read more 
Finding opportunities in Vietnam’s changing retail landscape

Finding opportunities in Vietnam’s changing retail landscape

7 Sep 2020

Minimarkets, specialist stores and e-commerce platforms are leading retail growth in Vietnam, providing new opportunities for brands to boost sales, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

Read more 
Beware of ‘woke washing’: Ethical branding must reflect an ethical business

Beware of ‘woke washing’: Ethical branding must reflect an ethical business

31 Aug 2020

Spanish chocolate manufacturer Lacasa is under pressure to change the name and logo of its Conguitos brand with a consumer-led petition - but experts warn against empty ‘cause marketing’.

Read more 
Federal lawsuit challenges US rules on ‘misleading’ GM labelling

Federal lawsuit challenges US rules on ‘misleading’ GM labelling

24 Aug 2020

The Center for Food Safety has filed a federal lawsuit challenging USDA rules that mean genetic modification (GM) foods are labelled as ‘bioengineered’ – a move it says reduces transparency and causes consumer confusion.

Read more 
Brazil’s food waste law will put consumers at risk, warn experts

Brazil’s food waste law will put consumers at risk, warn experts

17 Aug 2020

Recent Brazilian regulation aims to fight food waste by encouraging food donations – but it puts public health at risk, warn consumer groups and legal experts.

Read more 
UK pledges to protect food standards during trade talks but public concern remains high

UK pledges to protect food standards during trade talks but public concern remains high

6 Aug 2020

British public concerns over lowering food safety standards continue to court US trade remain steadfast as the UK and US governments gear up for the next round of scheduled negotiations later this month.

Read more 
Pressure on baby milk manufacturers intensifies over mineral oil traces

Pressure on baby milk manufacturers intensifies over mineral oil traces

3 Aug 2020

Consumer watchdog Foodwatch is calling for EU member states and the European Commission to publish the results of official tests on the presence of potentially harmful aromatic mineral oil in baby milk and infant formula.

Read more 
Flexitarians in China are revitalising the mock meat tradition

Flexitarians in China are revitalising the mock meat tradition

27 Jul 2020

Many Asian countries, China in particular, have traditions of mock meat but the region is developing a new, innovation-fuelled plant-based sector to meet the demands of urban flexitarians, say experts.

Read more 
PepsiCo Egypt CEO feels bullish about regional growth: ‘The opportunities are huge’

PepsiCo Egypt CEO feels bullish about regional growth: ‘The opportunities are huge’

20 Jul 2020

PepsiCo recently announced a US$100m capital investments in Egypt, and its confidence in the country’s growth potential is unshaken even by coronavirus, says the CEO of PepsiCo Egypt.

Read more