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What does it take to give a niche ingredient superfood staying power? A re-think of the supply chain

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

What does it take to give a niche ingredient sustained consumer demand rather than a brief moment of superfood fame? A radical re-think of how you control the supply chain can help. FoodNavigator spoke to two companies that are doing just that.

According to Shelley Balanko, senior vice president at consumer research company The Hartman Group, there are two aspects to think about. “From a consumer standpoint they need to have heard of the superfood and our experience is that core consumers – those most involved in health and wellness – are the evangelists. They spread the news of superfood ingredients to folks in their social networks who might be a little less committed and knowledgeable,” ​she told FoodNavigator.

“From an industry standpoint it takes some control over the supply chain in order to have a defencible position for that superfood ingredient for a period of time – it’s the Starbucks advantage. You control your supply chain and you prevent some ‘me too’ competitors for a period of time.”

At Food Vision, held in Cannes earlier this month, We spoke to two companies that are selling superfoods a little differently.

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© Green Onyx

Israeli company, Green Onyx, has developed a way to allow individual consumers or companies to grow their own superfood – the world’s smallest aquatic vegetable - khai nam – that is nutrient dense with a taste similar to spinach or broccoli.

Green Onyx’s fully automated, compact greenhouse is scalable - meaning it can be used as a kitchen gadget for consumers or a larger machine installed onsite in a restaurant or a food factory – and delivers fresh, ready-to-use khai nam at the touch of a button.

For Tsipi Shoham, co-founder and chief technical officer, this is what gives the company an edge. Green Onyx is not just selling an exclusive ingredient but giving people – both consumers and industry - the means to grow it themselves.

“When we initiated the company and looked for the right source of nutrition, we were also looking at the accessibility and affordability, and its ability to integrate into our lifestyle – a modern lifestyle or any kind of lifestyle worldwide.

“This is a critical feature in order to enable people to get used to it and adapt it on a regular basis as a really good source of nutrition. So the solution of khai nam is not just about this wonderful plant but the technology of how we grow it and deliver it to the future customers”

“There is no waste, no overheads and no complexity involved in using this superfood – it’s a main feature.”

The price also ensures it will be a commodity – not a niche ingredient – that is affordable to all, she added.

Another company that is leveraging a unique supply chain and sourcing to its advantage is Aduna. For Andrew Hunt, founder of the London-based start-up that sells baobab products, the fact that the supply of baobab fruit is owned by rural communities acts as a social and environmental safeguard, meaning consumer demand can grow without adversely affecting the sustainability. “There is no such thing as a baobab plantation,” ​he said.

 “Right now 95% percent of people in the developed world have never heard of baobab. In order for baobab to become a real significant market that could provide a sustainable income to 10 million households in rural Africa, what needs to happen is we need to create demand. Aduna’s mission is to create that demand and ultimately we see baobab evolving from being a niche

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© Twitter

superfood as it is today to being a mainstream, food ingredient.

Hunt is not concerned about other companies jumping on the ‘me too’ bandwagon – in fact he actively encourages it.

“In order for it to go from one to the other will involve a lot of investment and marketing. That’s what Aduna is doing and we encourage any other brands or companies interested in using baobab in their products as ingredients.”

Through the campaign ‘Make baobab famous’,  Hunt harnessed combined the power of social media and the influence of big retailers to boost the profile of the superfood, culminating in major UK health and wellness retailer, Holland & Barrett, changing its name on all its social media channels to Holland & Baobab.

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