African Superfoods
The Business of Health

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” A growing number of individuals who believe in the power of holistic natural health care have taken “the father of modern medicine’s” advice to heart and are choosing to “cure” their bodies and prevent diseases by consuming nutrient-rich, environmentally friendly superfoods.

The superfood label is typically reserved for organic, nutrient-dense foods relatively low in calories. They’re said to improve health by strengthening immune function and aiding disease prevention or slowing disease progression in addition to supporting the immune system. Superfoods are also associated with improved heart health, increased energy levels, cancer prevention, maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and even reducing the effects of ageing, among others.

While no one miracle food will offer consumers perfect health and cure or prevent all diseases, there’s no denying that some foods are healthier than others. Some foods undoubtedly stand out for their nutritional qualities and benefits and are gaining popularity and momentum among natural health food advocates, partly accelerated because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Superfoods comprise of different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, leaves and nuts. However, superfoods still need to be understood, even with their supposed health benefits. It is worth noting that critics have argued that the concept of superfoods is pseudoscientific and merely a marketing gimmick. Whatever the case, the superfoods market is undoubtedly growing, and the sector presents vast economic potential.

Superfoods such as quinoa, acai berries, chia seeds, kombucha and green tea are among the most popular superfoods globally. However, Africa has various superfoods that can be utilised for national growth through sustainable commercialisation. Superfoods of African origin that can be better commercialised include the baobab fruit (pictured below), moringa (seen in main image), tiger nut, teff, tamarind, fonio and amaranth.

‘Growing Africa – Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness’, a recent World Bank Group report, says Africa’s food systems are currently valued at $313 billion per annum. They estimate that figure has the potential to triple if governments and business leaders radically rethink their policies and lend support to small-scale farmers and agribusinesses, which together account for nearly 50 percent of Africa’s economic activity.

The global superfoods market was worth an estimated US$164 billion in 2021 and is projected to be worth over US$228 billion by 2026. The North American market is the largest consumer of superfoods, while Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing superfoods market.

The superfoods market is highly competitive and is driven by product offerings and consumer demand. The market offers various opportunities for new entrants owing to the continuous shift in consumer preferences towards healthy foods. This creates multiple opportunities for the manufacturers of superfoods, with major players concentrating on expanding their market share anchored on productivity through technological innovations. 

The recent COVID-19 outbreak was a boon for the superfoods manufacturers, as there was extensive demand for packaged functional food products. As the notion of healthy and nutritious eating widely spread in the global market, it created additional demand for superfoods on an industrial level.

Zambia has tapped into the superfoods market with the production of moringa. The Moringa Initiative produces tea and supplements, which are readily available in Zambia and South Africa, the US and the EU. The company’s products can also be purchased through its website, making them available to an even more comprehensive array of customers.

There is a grand opportunity of exporting African superfoods to markets in Europe, the US and the Asia Pacific due to the rise in demand for healthy foods. African producers and entrepreneurs can and should tap into this opportunity by cultivating these crops and exporting them either raw or processed. The potential earning increases with value addition; African producers must process their products to achieve maximum earning potential.

This way, producers will create jobs and generate revenue through exports to improve the welfare of rural farmers. Unlocking the vast potential of these agro-commodities will develop agricultural value chains and agro-allied industries and allow them to become more competitive in global value chains.

To succeed in the export market, all legal requirements of the regulators in the importing country must be strictly adhered to while processing these foods. Packaging and labelling should also be of a high standard. The way superfoods are displayed in-store is key to how consumers perceive them. The products must also be made available on e-commerce platforms and aggressively marketed internationally.

Finally, it is a plus if African producers promote their products with a compelling backstory. Today’s customer is discerning and is interested to know where the crop was grown, harvested, and its ‘route’ from farm to store shelf. 

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