A dive into the world of superfoods – an enterprising industry or an evanescent trend?
More than just an escape from body shaming or an attempt to hop on the fit fam train, ‘super foods’ are actually a thing. Some of what we now commonly refer to as super foods have always been a part of prescribed low carb diets, but this is changing. Dieting is no longer only for people who intend to shed some weight. We now know, more than we did before, that it’s important to eat healthy and observe the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day for different essential nutrients.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Nigeria has an agricultural land spanning over 762,000 sq.km, making her 15th in the world ranking.
Yet, there’s an ironic twist. According to the same data provided by FAO, Nigeria’s crop production index – the aggregate of crops produced each year relative to a base period – is at 105.9%, placing Nigeria at 99th out of 181 in the global ranking.
source: Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations; World Development Indicators Database.
The statistics tell the cliché tale of Nigeria’s abundant resources and scarce output. In researching and writing this piece, my concern was to know if superfoods are indispensable in developing Nigeria’s agriculture and economy. Have superfoods created an enterprising industry or is it all just a fleeting trend? My interactions with Phranklin Alli, the CEO of ZTEA – a fast growing superfood brand – give me an insightful perspective into the discourse. Armed with that and with personal discretion, I’m poised to make a plausible conclusion.
The ‘root’ of the matter
Many argue that the term ‘superfood’ is just another click bait scheme. On the internet, I have come across a couple of expert dieticians who were quick to dismiss the term as a mere marketing lingo. But here’s the thing: Super foods are mostly plant-based foods, and may include fish and dairy products, considered to be nutritionally dense. While superfoods do not have their own food group or exclusive criteria, there are certain factors that make them a part of health conversations.
Super foods commonly contain antioxidants, which are vital preventive nutrients against cancer. Super foods are also known to contain other important nutrients such as healthy fats, which prevent heart disease; fibre; protein and other chemicals such as phytochemicals which are responsible for the colour and smell of most leafy-green vegetables.
The term ‘superfood’ is not scientific. It is more or less a label for certain kinds of healthy food. This fact, however, does not make these foods any less vital. Blueberries, strawberries, pomegranates, cabbages, spinach, kale, sweet potatoes, beans, nuts (although they contain higher levels of cholesterol), salmons, sardines and other fatty fish are considered the most popular superfoods.
One important thing to note is that superfoods can be abused. The fact that a super food contains high nutritional supplements does not mean that it should be consumed in any amount. This is why Dr. David Ludwig in an interview with NPR says, “You do have to be cautious of the amount you eat, because you can gain weight from eating too much healthy food”.
Market, Competition, Challenges
Phranklin Alli – referenced earlier – tells me about the hibiscus which is the main resource for his brand – ZTEA: a brand that makes hibiscus tea called Zobo tea bags. The potentials of the value chain are relatively untapped and the hibiscus plant isn’t heavily cultivated. It is, therefore, risky to dive into large scale farming of the hibiscus plant since the demand isn’t quite high. This is why, just as Phranklin and his team have done, it is important to collaborate with local farmers and commit to helping them reduce their post-harvest loss. Post-harvest losses from local farmers average at over 50% every year in Nigeria.
The most significant portion of Nigeria’s agricultural sector is in cattle herding, fishing, poultry, and lumbering. Also consider that an estimated 66% of the Nigerian population engages in agricultural production, but only at a subsistence level. From the 1980’s we witnessed a dramatic shift in the nature of things – imports rose, exports diminished and the production of crops such as cassava and yam have grown exponentially in order to feed Africa’s most populous country.
|Crop||Tonnes produced in 2016|
|Oil palm fruit||7,817,207|
It means that even though agriculture is Nigeria’s most prospective sector, not everyone and everything are sharing in the spoils. No superfood is among the top list of produced crops in Nigeria at the moment. Also, many of the local farmers do not produce consumer-ready foods. The limitation in resources restricts them to small scale harvest and meagre distribution. Unfortunately, one of the best ways to market superfoods is to innovatively create consumer-ready products that would increase demand.
This is why there isn’t much much competition. It’s because they are not really part of it. Those who are have to make extra efforts in branding, marketing and publicity.
Breakfast in buds
Whether it’s sandwiches made with special recipes or tea bags made from what we’re more familiar with, as the cold beverage called ‘Zobo’, the culture of healthy foods and dieting is becoming more emphasized gradually. More of what people eat should be organic and nutritious – ‘breakfast in buds’.
It’s either the Nigerian market isn’t heavily buying the ‘super food’ label or it’s not yet being heavily sold to it. I believe it’s more of the latter. People are becoming more conscious of their nutrition and general wellness. Brands who base their products on healthy lifestyle choices and resources, superfoods inclusive, are also on the rise, but they must make themselves felt in Nigeria’s tough agricultural sector. Phranklin said that the world is beginning to tilt towards healthier food alternatives.
Brands creating products in this space must do better to ride on the super food label. They must be innovative in how they design, position and distribute these products to attract a market that is still skeptical but very much anxious to adopt healthier habits. Just like the tiny hibiscus shrubs sprouting up in the most remote farms up north, growth is almost certain for super food brands. With the right conditions, they will sprout, bloom and thrive.
Chuka Emereuwaonu is a digital and creative content expert with over 4 years experience navigating the entrepreneurship, art, media and tech spaces in Nigeria.