Sales of superfoods have exploded in recent years as Americans look for easy ways to make their daily diet more healthy.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for healthful nutrients from foods rather than from supplements,” says Bob Jones, a principal at Scientia Advisors.
Superfoods are touted for their high nutrient content and disease-fighting properties. However, the health effects of these foods are controversial. While there is no set definition for superfoods, the term is often used for marketing purposes and there is little research on their health benefits.
What’s happening, Jones explains, is consumers are increasingly looking for functionality in natural ways by eating yogurt instead of taking probiotics in capsules and eating fish instead of taking fish oil in capsules.
Superfoods, which come in the form of whole foods or drinks and juices, can provide affordable and convenient health and wellness options. Some, however, can be quite expensive.
"We are what we eat," says Elisabetta Poletti, director of nutrition at Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. "There's an association between eating food that is wholesome and nutritious in our health."
Whole Foods tells CNBC it has seen a "renaissance" movement where customers are increasingly moving toward more healthy, less-processed foods.
Here's a look at top-selling superfoods grown in the U.S., based on retail sales data from the Perishables Group, a fresh food industry consulting firm.
By Julia La Roche
Posted 23 May 2011
— High in protein and monounsaturated fats
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $159
Almonds are the most popular nut in America, partly because they are seen as diet-friendly. They are high in protein, making them a popular choice for consumers seeking nutritious snacks. While they are high in fat, it's mono-unsaturated fat, which is considered the “healthy” fat.
Some research suggests that almonds help lower bad cholesterol. In addition, they are high in vitamin E and magnesium, providing heart-healthy benefits.
According to Perishables Group, the average grocery store surveyed in the U.S. sold $159 dollars worth of almonds each week in 2010, about the same as in 2006. Sales in 2007 and 2008 were slightly higher.
According to the Food and Agriculutral Organization of the United Nations, there were 846,131 tons of almonds produced in the U.S. in 2006 and more than 1.16 million tons in 2009.
California produces 100 percent of the domestic almond crop. According the Almond Board of California, the U.S. is the largest market; approximately 30 percent of the domestic crop is sold here, while the remaining 70 percent is shipped internationally.
— High in antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $747
Blueberries are the second most popular in the berry bunch, behind strawberries.
This mildly sweet berry tops 60 fruits and vegetables in antioxidants, says Poletti. Blueberries are also jam-packed with vitamin C and fiber.
Average weekly blueberry sales per store were $747 in 2010, compared with $531 in 2006.
There are more than 200 million pounds of blueberries grown in North America every year, according to the Agricultural Council of America. Michigan and New Jersey produce 66 percent of all the blueberries in the U.S., followed by North Carolina, Oregon and Washington.
Total acreage increased from 52,002 in 2002 to 60,353 in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
— High in beta-carotene, flavonoids, folate, potassium, selenium and vitamin C
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $507
Broccoli may not have seemed so super at the dinner table growing up, but this superfood is experiencing super growth. According the Agricultural Council of America, the U.S. consumes 900 percent more broccoli than 20 years ago!
Broccoli is considered a superfood because this plant is loaded with beta-carotene, flavonoids, folate, potassium, selenium and vitamin C.
Average weekly broccoli sales in dollars per store in the U.S. were $507 in 2010, versus $439 in 2006, according to Perishables Group.
Italian immigrants living in New York first introduced broccoli to America, but the vegetable did not become popular until the 1920s when it became commercially grown in California.
— High in dietary fiber, vitamins C and E, potassium and lutein
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $846
"Avocados provide a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins C and E, potassium and lutein; the fruit's fats are mainly mono-saturated, which are associated with cardiovascular health," says Polleti.
Some studies have suggested the active compounds in avocado have been shown to prevent prostate cancer.
Average sales in dollars per store each week for avocados were $846 in 2010, against $622 in 2006.
Florida and California are the main producers in the U.S., with California cultivating 80 percent of the crop.
Total acreage has grown from 75,570 in 2002 to 82,647 in 2007, according to the USDA.
According to the FAO there were approximately 247,000 tons of avocados grown in the U.S. in 2006 and 268,700 tons produced in 2009.
— High in B vitamins (including folate), beta-carotene, calcium, iron, lutein, magnesium and potassium
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $22
This green leafy vegetable is packed with nutrients such as B vitamins (including folate), beta-carotene, calcium, iron, lutein, magnesium and potassium.
"The greens have been moving like crazy," says Jody Villecco, Whole Foods' food and nutrition quality standards coordinator, with kale extremely popular lately.
Average grocery store sales were approximately $22 in 2010, compared with $13 in 2006.
Kale is generally produced on the East Coast from Delaware to Florida.
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $154
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $52
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $199
The superfood group also includes quite a few fruits. Sales in this area are volatile, with frequent changes in leadership.
Tropical fruits such as mango, papaya and pineapple are jam-packed with nutrients, such as beta-carotene, bromelain, potassium, folate and vitamin C.
Average dollars per store each week for mangoes were $154 in 2010, compared with $146 in 2006. Papaya sales were approximately $52 a week in 2010, against $54 in 2006. Pineapples were $199 each week, versus $191 in 2006.
— High in anthocyanins and ellagic acid
— Avg. weekly store sales in 2010: $46
Pomegranates have nutrients such as anthocyanins and ellagic acid, a type of polyphelol antioxidant also prominent in berries, which activates enzymes. They are often used in juices and drinks.
Weekly per-store sales were approximately $46 in 2010, compared with $34 in 2006.
Most pomegranates are grown in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Mediterranean Europe. Pomegranates in the U.S. are mainly grown in California and Arizona.
The number of acres producing pomegranates in the U.S. has increased from 9,535 in 2002 to 24,517 acres in 2007, according to the DOA.
(The data represents approximately 63 percent ACV (all commodity value) for all census-level retailers in the grocery channel nationwide, including more than 13,000 stores. It does not include alternative channels such as Walmart, franchises, club stores, mass, convenience or natural food stores.)