BeverageDaily caught up with the general manger of Baobab Foods, Stephan Broburg, about his business and how baobab is starting to trend in the US beverage market.
Broburg believes baobab has plenty of potential in beverages: including flavored waters, smoothies, juices and sparkling beverages. It taps into consumer trends for functional ingredients and raw foods, he adds.
What is baobab? What’s the market like in the US?
SB- Baobab is known as the “Queen of Superfruits,” and boasts an unparalleled nutritional profile, naturally bursting with fiber, essential minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants that promote a powerhouse of health benefits. Our Baobab Fruit Powder is a wholesome, nutritious, raw version of this powerful ingredient that comes from the majestic baobab tree of Africa.
Baobab boasts 10 times the antioxidant bioavailability (absorption) of antioxidants relative to acai—making it one of the most nutritious superfruits on earth. Our wild-harvested baobab has a light and subtly tangy flavor that blends perfectly with other fruit flavors.
In a short period of time, Baobab Foods has emerged as the leading manufacturer and distributor of raw, USDA Organic baobab powder, as well as unique BaoBite Superfruit Snacks for industrial and food and beverage brands in the US market. We work from the source with harvesting cooperatives in southern Africa to share baobab with the North American market and beyond.
Big-name brands like Suja, Garden of Life, and more have realized the versatility and nutritional benefits of baobab, and begun to incorporate it into their beverage products.
A growing market for baobab means a sustainable, perennial source of income for the harvesting cooperatives we work with in rural communities in the region, as well as creates a sense of stewardship for the baobab tree, which can live for more than 2,000 years.
What does the growth for baobab in the US market look like?
SB- Our company, Baobab Foods, pioneered the baobab industry, beginning to source and supply baobab fruit powder five years ago. Since we began harvesting, our baobab has quickly emerged as a highly sought-after ingredient within the US beverage industry, making its biggest presence in supplement powders, meal replacement drinks, smoothies, and cold-pressed juices.
This is largely due to the fact that the cost of adding 50 grams of baobab fruit powder to a gallon of single strength juice or tea is less than 75₵ per gallon. Yet, this addition delivers over 70,000 ORAC units of antioxidants, 25 grams of fiber (19 grams being soluble fiber), 1135 mg of potassium and 85 mg of magnesium – making it an extremely cost effective, sustainable and versatile way to boost nutritional value with an organic whole food.
Since our founding, we’ve seen an exponential increase in public awareness and interest in baobab. An anecdotal example: two years ago at major trade shows (Natural Products Expo West, SupplySide West, etc.), 90% of people we spoke with didn’t know about baobab, and perhaps only 10% knew something about baobab (to a varying degree). Last year, those numbers had flipped; 90% had some knowledge of what it is, let alone had seen it, tried it, were interested in it.
What beverage companies do you work with in the US?
SB- While we work with a breadth of beverage companies, one of our main collaborations is with Suja Juice, a leader in the cold-pressed juice category and recently ranked the number two Most Promising Companies in 2015 by Forbes. We have worked with them on a unique SKU featuring baobab. Additionally, we provide the raw material for Bumbleroot Foods, which boasts a line of flavored baobab drink mixes in varieties such as blueberry-baobab, pineapple mint-baobab, and more.
Baobab Foods is also making headway into the energy drink space, working with Vita V Energy, a new organic energy drink, which utilizes our baobab’s energizing fruit powder as its base.
What have been challenges for your company in sourcing and manufacturing Baobab? How did you overcome them?
SB- Baobab trees are nearly ubiquitous in Africa, found in approximately 40 countries on the continent. That said, baobab trees are ancient creatures! They live for hundreds, even thousands of years; and begin to fruit around 50 years of age. All the trees we harvest from are keystone species in fully mature savannah ecosystems.
These aren’t harvested on farms. So a key for sourcing baobab is establishing a strong network of harvesting cooperatives in the regions in which they grow in abundance, providing proper training and clear market opportunities for all involved.
We have all that in place. What makes this all possible for us is our strong relations with our raw material suppliers and further, having our feet on the ground. Half of our staff is based in South Africa, allowing us to be hands-on throughout the whole process from sourcing to manufacturing.
Lastly, one of the great properties of baobab is how reliable the fruit is; it dehydrates naturally inside the pod, and the pod creates a very stable environment for the fruit. We say that Mother Nature does 98% of the work for us. Minimal processing is needed and the shelf life of the fruit is three years, allowing for flexibility in harvesting, processing, storage, and transportation times; said another way, baobab isn’t highly time-sensitive from harvesting to bringing to market like so many other raw fruits and vegetables are.
"We truly believe that from nutritional aspects, ingredient transparency and sustainability aspects, there are few functional ingredients that match baobab"
What’s the role of Baobab fruit powder in the beverage industry?
SB- Baobab can play a number of different key roles in the beverage industry, depending on the story the manufacturer chooses to highlight. The well-rounded nutritional aspect of baobab lends itself to a wide-range of roles. It is nearly 50% fiber (an excellent source of prebiotics); an excellent source of antioxidants (twice that of acai, and goji berries); and loaded with electrolytes. It is a raw whole food, making it ideal for the growing Paleo/Raw foods sector as well.
In addition, it’s a gluten-free, highly alkalizing, low-glycemic food, all excellent attributes that are trending in terms of beverage innovation. Lastly, for those interested in telling an engaging story of sustainability, both socioeconomic and environmentally, baobab has an incredible story to share with the world.
Will Baobab eventually replace other ingredients in the beverage market?
SB- It’s certainly possible. All foods and ingredients have their place in the market and rightfully so. That said, we truly believe that from a nutritional aspect and from an ingredient transparency and sustainability aspect, there are few functional ingredients out there that match baobab. Baobab’s light, tart, mild flavor profile fits seamlessly into a variety product applications; as a formulator you don’t have to [find] a way to mask any flavors to incorporate this great nutritional ingredient.
How do you see Baobab developing in the beverage sector in the next 10 years? What’s the biggest upcoming trend in the beverage market?
SB- It’s hard to project exact numbers as the category and usage possibilities are growing exponentially, but we believe you will start to see baobab in everything from flavored waters, to smoothies, more juices, even sparkling beverages and more. If you look to the European market, which in some regards is slightly ahead of the US in terms of baobab awareness, the ingredient has begun to really take off. We see a similar parallel happening here, especially in the last few years.
And we’re bullish on this outlook; the health-conscious consumer isn’t going away any time soon and with the ever-increasing availability of information, consumers, and in turn, producers, want products that taste good, feel good, and do good. If we had to put our finger on specific trends along those lines, here’s a few: raw food movement, paleo movement, gluten-free, and low-sugar.