What will be the next kale or new superfood?

University of Queensland scientists think they might have the answer.

Flavour chemist and sensory scientist Heather Smyth and a team of researchers from the university’s Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences are hedging their bets on fortified fruit and vegetables. Think folate-enriched strawberries, a dark purple sweet corn packed with anthocyanins and macadamias with a lower saturated fat content.

And they’re predicting these products could be on supermarket shelves in as little as five years.

The project the team is working on – called “naturally nutritious” and funded by Hort Innovation – “is all about projecting the next big thing”, Dr Smyth said.

“We’re looking at conceptual ideas we know are genetically possible and have consumer legs,” she said at horticulture’s biggest annual conference, Hort Connections.

One of the products being tested is high-folate strawberries. Dr Smyth says the folate content can be “dialled up or dialled down” and could be sold in punnets containing a pregnant women’s daily folic acid requirement of 0.5mg.

“You can see some lovely concepts, it would make a great gift for pregnant women.

But it’s really important to communicate the particular need the product might be meeting. If they look the same, it’s hard for a consumer to differentiate the product.” The team is also developing fortified products that look different to traditional fruit and vegetables, such as the purple sweet corn. “You can see the visual differentiation. The colour reinforces to the consumer that there’s added value, it’s packed with anthocyanins,” Dr Smyth said, referring to a compound that has been linked to cardiovascular health, and prevention of cancer and dementia.

“People are willing to pay significantly more for these products if they have the right visual cues and those niche health values they’re looking for,” she said.

Associate director of analytics at data analytics company Nielson Chanel Day said Asian vegetables were experiencing “solid growth”.

Ms Day said the key to predicting trends in fruit and vegetables was jumping on the health and wellness bandwagon.

“Align your product with perceived healthiness,” Ms Day told growers. “Riding that health wave is a really fantastic opportunity for growers.” Head of fast-moving consumer goods at market research agency Colmar Brunton, Denise Hamblin, predicted foods that aid gut health would be a future trend, and Australian natives.

“The youlk, or bush carrot, is a sweet, mild carrot. The biggest thing is making people aware,” Dr Hamblin said.

“Food is medicine and people are really looking for this functionality.”

  • Published in the Weekly Times, Melbourne  by Alexandra Laskie on July 4 2018

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