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Why not sip on superfoods?

It was only a matter of time before superfood mania hit the beverage aisle.

Several years ago, Kam Chuhan's mother had diabetes, high blood pressure and was at risk of cancer. Chuhan, who has a background in nutritional counselling, set out to heal her mother with food. Frustrated with a lack of healthy beverages available on the market, she made her mother homemade drinks with “superfoods” such as chia seeds, coconut and turmeric.

Today, her mother’s diabetes is in remission, her blood pressure is controlled and she is cancer-free. This experience inspired Chuhan to launch a line of prepackaged beverages, called Yes Drinks, filled with superfoods. It seems like everyone is talking about superfoods these days, and there’s an almost infinite range out there, including flaxseeds, spirulina, goji berries and kale to name a few.

The companies that sell superfood products claim they can help with everything from controlled weight loss to lowering “bad” cholesterol.

Why the interest in superfoods?

“The short answer is Dr. Oz,” says Jennifer Sygo, author of Unmasking Superfoods: The Truth and Hype About Acai, Quinoa, Chia, Blueberries and More. “When he talks about , it has not just a ripple, but som times a tsunami effect,” says Sygo, who provides nutrition counselling at Toronto’s Cleveland Clinic Canada.

The trend is now spreading to the beverage market in a big way. In the past year, a number of new drinks have been added to the produce section of major retailers.

READ: Sobeys teams up with Nova Scotia berry producer

Chuhan’s Yes Drinks, for example, are sold in several stores in Toronto, including Loblaw’s industrial chic “Inspired” stores, Pusateri’s and Fresh & Wild.

Then there’s Mamma Chia, a California-based company with a line of beverages, called Vitality, which contains organic chia seeds. Mamma Chia launched the nine-flavour drink line, sold in Safeway, Loblaw’s, Whole Foods and Costco stores in Canada, in 2013. Sales have taken off.

“Our Canadian business has grown eight times from just a year ago,” says company founder and CEO, Janie Hoffman. “It’s been incredible.”

In late 2013, Nova Scotia’s LaHave Forests launched a haskap berry juice under its Haskapa brand name. The cultivated berry, which is dark blue and roughly the size of a large olive, has “double the antioxidants of the wild blueberry and as much vitamin C as an orange,” says Liam Tayler, commercial director for Haskapa.

“We’ve sold almost $100,000 worth of products since the beginning of 2014.”

READ: Haskapa haskap berry juice

And it’s not just the market for prepackaged drinks that’s growing. Some grocers are making their own super- food beverages in-store to meet the needs of health- conscious consumers.

In Nova Scotia, all three Pete’s Fine Foods have a juice bar. “Beet juice is a big thing right now,” says chief operating officer, Dianne Hamilton, of what’s popular at the retailer’s juice bars.

“There’s lots of opportunity . People are very interested in these products because they have an inherent therapeutic value to them.”

Toronto’s McEwan market also has its own juice bar, offering four drinks that blend together superfoods such as kale, spinach and ginger with carrots, apples and lettuce. “It’s like you’re getting all your supergreens in them,” says George Bachoumis, general manager at the McEwan Group. “The blends are what’s becoming the most popular.”

What makes them so popular? Convenience is the main reason, says Sygo. “It’s great to imagine you can pack a whole day’s worth of so- called superfoods into something that’s portable and you can down in a couple of minutes.”

But it’s definitely a case of buyer beware.

READ: Superfoods, natural products on display at bakery show

“Whether or not a drink is the right vehicle for superfoods is up for debate,” Sygo says. “I think it’s a trend companies are capitalizing on, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right trend.”

The drinks don’t come cheap, either. A 500-mL bottle of Haskapa juice, for example, retails at $15. A bottle of acai juice can cost as much as $40, says Sygo, adding that’s what a family of four might spend on conventional produce in a week.

Still, some consumers are willing to pay that price. “There’s a change in the consumer’s mentality,” says Tayler. “People are more aware of what they should be eating and there is a greater trend toward healthy eating.”

The category is poised for growth over the next few years. Mamma Chia will launch chia energy beverages with natural caffeine from a superleaf called guayusa in Canada next year, and Chuhan is already working on new Yes Drinks flavours. This trend isn’t going anywhere any time soon. “People are having fun with this,” says Hamilton. “They’re moving away from typical beverages and are more aware of what they’re drinking. And there are new drinks coming on the market all the time.”

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