Once the secret of Birkenstock-wearing progressives, green foods are now filling the shopping carts of informed—if not guilty—conventional consumers.
Nutrient-dense greens date back millions of years, and humans in the know have been eating them for centuries; green foods manufacturers commonly tout their ingredients as the energy food of ancient Mesoamericans, namely the Aztecs.
The term “green foods” encompasses a range of raw materials including algae (chlorella, spirulina, etc.), grasses (alfalfa, barley grass, wheat grass, etc.) and common green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc.). Though each ingredient boasts its own benefits, they all pack a well-rounded nutritional punch not often found elsewhere.
“Spirulina is nature’s multivitamin,” said John Blanco, president of AnMar International, noting the microalgae has 60-percent protein, unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin precursors, such as amino acids and proenzymes. “It’s not a complete 100-percent balanced vitamin tablet, but it’s pretty close.”
And this nutritional breakdown is similar across the green board, as the ingredients are densely filled with phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and nucleic acid, among other nutrients.
Consumers of all demographics are becoming more aware of the benefits of eating these green superfoods; Guinevere Lynn, director of business development at Sun Chlorella, pointed to the media for the industry’s popularity surge.
“Mass media has certainly played a major role in this ‘green renaissance,’ ” she explained. The television medical personalities is a huge proponent of green foods popularity.
Similarly, the 2011 documentary “Forks Over Knives” and Joel Fuhrman’s, M.D., book “Eat to Live” opened viewers’ eyes to the benefits of a plant-based diet—and how Americans, in particular, aren’t getting enough greens.
The standard American diet (SAD) boasts a menu high in animal-based products and saturated fat and low in plant-based foods. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released unsurprising numbers on Americans’ fruit and vegetable consumption. CDC reported 32.5 percent of adults ate two or more servings of fruit a day, while only 26.3 percent ate vegetables three or more times a day. And both of these numbers decreased from the first survey in 2000.
To fill the green void, Americans are turning to nutrition-rich supplements.
“It’s imperative for consumers to fill in this nutritional gap by supplementing the diet with plant-based supplements and/or products,” Lynn said. “Think of the famous words of Hippocrates: ‘Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ ”
In 2011, sales of herbal supplements—including green foods—jumped 7 percent since 2010 to US$379 million in the mainstream market, according to market research firm SymphonyIRI. SPINS estimated 2011 sales in the health food channel at US$251 million for a 9-percent increase since 2010.
And within these channels, green food supplements stole the show. Kelp and alfalfa posted two of the highest percentage increases from 2010 to 2011 (41 and 46 percent, respectively), while spirulina booked a 26-percent boost in sales. All three are on SymphonyIRI’s 40 top-selling herbal dietary supplements list.
“This rapid growth in popularity comes as no surprise since the healthfulness of green foods has been known for quite some time now; consumers were already eating the whole foods of these powders for their health benefits,” said Alison Raban, food technologist, “But the consumption of super green powders is not only for the extremely healthy anymore.”
The green foods market has not seen a shift in demographics, but instead an addition of new ones. The customer base has broadened to include average Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Yers, in addition to long-time health fanatics, Raban explained. And if customers want green foods, they have plenty of places to turn to, thanks to the growing availability of health food stores, smoothie chains and restaurants with green offerings.
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