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Perhaps no label has more power over the health-focused consumer than that of “superfood.” A superfood is a whole food with uniquely valuable nutrition benefits. One food after another has been labeled a superfood, from blueberries to açai berries to kale, resulting in booming sales. A study identified newly-popularized superfoods as one of the top 10 food trends for 2014. If your company is in the superfood market or sells a superfood-infused product, you’re reaping the benefits.

Skepticism Over Superfoods

Though you should certainly ride this trend, you should also remain aware that however trendy superfoods may be, the (chia) seeds are there for a potential consumer backlash. The media figures who tout superfoods have massive influence, and consumers are getting more skeptical about nutritional claims. That doesn’t bode well for the label “superfood,” which, as the nutritionist Marion Nestle told David Sax, is a “marketing device… Nutritionists like me don’t recognize any one food as especially super.” In other words: superfoods may be good for you, but their nutritional benefits are oversold. If consumers catch on that the label “superfood” is not approved scientifically, they will respond with distrustand it’s likely that they will catch on.

Given that, companies should be prepared for a backlash against the superfood label. In your marketing, draw on what makes so-called superfoods appealing, without over-hyping their benefits. Health is the obvious starting place, and your marketing can and should continue to tout the health benefits of your product. However, you should always keep those claims factual.

Truthful Enticement

According to Sax, though, products in the superfoods market have a more intangible allure, one you should not neglect: “The seductive power of many of these superfoods lies in their place in remote, somewhat mystical cultures” located in places like Greece, Okinawa, or the Amazon. These cultures supposedly draw their longevity from eating superfoods like yogurt, pomegranates, or salmon. Consumers perceive those cultures as exotic and romantic, and associate those qualities with the foods. That sense of mysticism is evident in labeling like ‘ancient grains.’”

Here too, it’s important to proceed carefully. You don’t want to exploit someone’s culture to sell your product. At the same time, it can’t be denied that consumers love the mystical, exotic feeling they get from superfoods. Communicating that sense of mysticism without being exploitative is tricky. However, this could be crucial to giving superfoods life on the market even if the label ceases to impress.

Focusing on the origin of your products with a transparency campaign might be one tactic. By telling the real stories of your sources, you can give your customers transparency data and a sense of connection to another culture at the same time. For example, Fair Trade marketing leans heavily on images of tropical locales, not in order to exploit but to connect consumers and producers through story.

At MarketPlace, we’re food-industry trend watchers, students of culture, and careful observers of consumer behavior. We don’t just produce marketing materials, we begin with strategy to ensure that your marketing gets results. If you’re struggling to market your food or beverage product amid the shifting winds of trends, culture, and consumer trust, let’s chat!

Matt Miller staff photo
Matt Miller writes, teaches, and practices biodynamic gardening near Reeds Spring, Missouri. A MarketPlace alum with a background in academic research, he’s fascinated with how culture, media, and business interact—and equally with the best methods of cultivating healthy fruit trees.