Health-conscious U.S. consumers are buying hundreds of millions of dollars of so-called superfruits annually, even as critics contend their nutritional benefits are overblown and, in some cases, nonexistent.
Superfruits burst onto the scene a few short years ago as dieticians — and marketers — touted them as low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods said to contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Proponents also have claimed that the various fruits are helpful with arthritis, cancer, weight loss, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, detoxification and aging.
"Booming superfruit sales are a triumph of marketing over science, that's the bottom line," says nutritionist author Jonny Bowden. "The fruits aren't useless, but also aren't anything that people are claiming they are."
The top five best-selling superfruits — acai berries, cranberry, coconut, elderberry and goji berries — brought in more than $205 million in the 52 weeks ending April 16, according to the Spins, a market research firm for the natural products industry.
Just the sales of juice, powder, tea and supplement capsules containing the Brazilian acai (pronounced a-sigh-EE) berry generated more than $130 million, Spins data shows.
The market, however, is volatile. Pomegranate would surely have made the list, but its sales during the most recent period, dropped some 23 percent to $8.65 million, reversing a previous gain. Coconut sales of $22 million, on the other hand, grew 50 percent as various canned and bottled coconut waters fill grocery shelves.
Acai sales, up 32 percent in 2009, are down 6.2 percent from a year ago.