Cherries: More than just antioxidants

Like a number of “superfruits”, cherries boast formidable antioxidant content. However, it appears that they may have more specific health benefits to offer in a number of very promising growth areas, such as sports nutrition, pain management and combating sleeplessness. This report is by Ewa Hudson, Global Head of Health and Wellness Research at Euromonitor International.

Cherries more dynamic than blueberries and cranberries

Cherries are enjoying a surge in popularity. Euromonitor International’s fresh food statistics show that global volume sales of fresh cherries rose by 17% over the 2006-2011 review period, outperforming other high-end fresh fruit “treats” like strawberries and grapes. In 2011, cherries emerged as the second most dynamic fresh fruit category, achieving a 4% volume gain, ahead of cranberries/blueberries.

Global volume sales of cherries amounted to 1.3 million tonnes in 2011, which was only marginally below that of cranberries/blueberries and less than half of the volumes achieved by strawberries.

Although an ongoing hit with consumers, the market for fresh cherries remains constrained by both seasonality and a short shelf life. Unlike some types of berries, such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, which are also highly perishable but whose seasonality can be artificially prolonged, for example through the use of polytunnels, cherries only manage to make a comparatively short-lived annual appearance.

Luckily, in order to enjoy the taste and health benefits of cherries, consumers are not limited to eating them in their fresh state, but can resort to frozen, dried and powdered formats as well as drinking cherry juice. Needless to say, this inherent versatility is good news for a range of players engaged in the health and wellness industry.

Antioxidants and beyond

As already alluded to, cherries are high in antioxidants. This goes particularly for tart cherries (also often referred to as “sour” cherries). Contrary to what one might expect, tart cherries have the same natural sugar content as sweet cherries but contain more sour and bitter tasting phytochemicals – the very substances which afford them their antioxidant prowess.

The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, a measure of the antioxidant potency of foods) value of fresh tart cherries is around 1,500. For comparison, fresh strawberries hover around the 1,000 mark, and cranberries come in just below tart cherries. Blueberries, which are famed for being antioxidant powerhouses, achieve an ORAC value of around 2,400.

Their high antioxidant content makes cherries and cherry products instant candidates for several health and wellness positioning platforms, including cardiovascular health, brain health and memory, beauty from within and anti-ageing. Being a rich source of carotenoids (which are grouped in with antioxidants) means that cherries potentially also lend themselves well to a vision health positioning.

In recent years, several pieces of research have emerged which indicate that cherries may hold promise for three further – and potentially very popular – health and wellness applications. They may provide relief from pain and inflammation, act as a sleep aid and become a rising star in the area of sports nutrition.

Relief for painful joints

Fresh cherries are a traditional remedy for alleviating the pain associated with gout and arthritis. Some research has shown that they help the body excrete excess uric acid, which causes gout, and also that certain phytochemicals present in cherries may combat the inflammation responsible for arthritic pain.

Anti-inflammatory drugs currently constitute the mainstay medical treatment for arthritis management, and consumers are always looking for natural alternatives, enabling them to reduce the amount of medication they are taking, and cherry products may prove to be an ideal and highly palatable adjunct.

Driven by global population ageing, bone and joint health is destined to become an important positioning platform. For the 32 markets covered by Euromonitor International’s in-depth health and wellness research, sales of foods and beverages with a prime positioning focus on bone and joint health amounted to US$13.8 billion in 2010.

Sleeping pills are not the answer

Insomnia is a prominent health issue. Euromonitor International’s consumer health data show that calming and sleeping products were the eighth most popular type of OTC medication purchased in 2011 at a global level. The category accrued worldwide value sales of nearly US$1.7 billion, registering a value growth rate of 36% over the 2006-2011 review period….. Read the full article