Given the plethora of fresh research on the profound health benefits of blackcurrants, The Blackcurrant Foundation is actively spreading the word about these superfruit superstars as it continues to raise the profile of British blackcurrants towards the level of cranberries and blueberries. Produce Business UK finds out how buyers should be taking note from Laura Oakley of consumer brand PR consultancy Cirkle, blackcurrant grower Anthony Snell and the foundation’s chairwoman Jo Hilditch
Making blackcurrants current
As a cluster of evidence explodes onto the scientific scene like juice from a bursting berry, the promotion of the many health benefits of these tiny purple power balls should be a fairly easy task. But, as Oakley notes, “there still needs to be a re-education on blackcurrants.” She explains that the feedback received by Cirkle PR – which manages The Foundation’s public relations campaign – is that: “because they [blackcurrants] are not sitting on the fresh produce aisles, people don’t know how to use them.”
With this in mind, Oakley explains that one of this year’s primary goals is to “make blackcurrants current again through a targeted influencer programme to drive both education and relevancy.” This, notes Oakley, includes further educating national and lifestyle media, nutritionists, dieticians and doctors on the many health benefits of blackcurrants. It also includes putting blackcurrants – which are commonly known for their rich vitamin C and anti-oxidant content – at the forefront of consumers’ minds. This is being achieved by working with the media to show (but not tell) them how they can “easily add blackcurrants into their lifestyle” such as by “utilising the rise of the Nutribullet and making sure blackcurrants are sitting in the freezer.” Oakley adds that this year’s PR campaign has been kick-started with the launch of a new website for the grower-funded foundation which, she says, presents the increasing pile of [scientific] information in “a clearer way – to help raise awareness of this super fruit.” She adds: “Keep an eye on it for emerging research.”
Nutribullet boost: tropical blackcurrant smoothie
Five big reasons to eat blackcurrants
A summary of this new research, which Oakley reveals has this summer been sent out to health and lifestyle journalists, pinpoints “five big reasons why your body loves blackcurrants,” including the fact that:
Blackcurrants’ give people a natural brain boost
Research conducted using funding obtained by Plant & Food Research in New Zealand and the University of Northumbria demonstrates that blackcurrant juice boosts the ability to undertake tasks requiring alertness, vigilance and sustained attention. It also helps reduce mental fatigue and, as blackcurrant juice contains berry fruit polyphenols – natural compounds renowned for playing an important role in reducing the progression of neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, the research also suggests that blackcurrant juice may help slow the cognitive decline associated with ageing and disorders including dementia.
Blackcurrants reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction
Earlier this year a new study showed how men who take some physical activity and enjoy a diet rich in flavonoids including anthocyanins – the compounds in blackcurrants that give them their characteristic purple colour – are less likely to suffer erectile dysfunction. Blackcurrants contain higher levels of anthocyanins than blueberries, red wine, apples and citrus fruits.
Blackcurrants can help fight cancer and aid digestion
Anthocyanins – purple ones in particular – are effective at inhibiting tumour cell numbers and increasing cancer cell death, according to a study published last August. Moreover, another study published this spring (2016) has shown that blackcurrant extract has an “anti-tumour” effect and helps to decrease the size of gastric and oesophagus cancers. Meanwhile, a further report has suggested that anthocyanins help to increase levels of healthy bacteria (Bifidobacterium) in the gut – therefore helping to maintain the healthy functioning of the digestive system.
Blackcurrants could improve vascular health
Inadequate intake of the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables could be contributing to increased risks of cardiovascular disease. But recently published research reveals that – thanks to the polyphenols found in blackcurrants – those with habitually low intakes of fruit and vegetables could benefit simply by consuming blackcurrant juice to improve their vascular health. What’s more, research from 2015 found that consuming blackcurrant juice can reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome – high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
Blackcurrants can boost bone health
Recent research to evaluate the effect of blackcurrant anthocyanins on bone mass has revealed that blackcurrant supplementation can help to reduce the impact of menopause on bone density.
The value of PR
In addition to launching a new website and working with the media, The Blackcurrant Foundation’s PR team has this year held a roundtable called Media Medics to discuss these scientific papers with “key influencers” – such as those doctors who regularly contribute to newspapers and magazines. Oakley adds that this year’s drive is being run on the back of five successive (and successful) PR campaigns that have collectively seen a return on investment of £286,673 and reached an estimated audience of 699 million.
She also notes that the “value of PR” was perfectly demonstrated this April (2016) when the BBC television series How to Stay Young highlighted the importance of foods containing anthocyanins. Cirkle PR’s Oakley points out that grower Anthony Snell saw double the [usual] traffic to his website following the show. Yet despite consumers’ obvious interest in these fruits – arguably best known for being the key ingredient in Ribena – Snell notes that the integration of blackcurrants into the fresh produce aisles has so far “not been a huge success.” This is because, he explains, blackcurrants differ from other soft fruits grown in the UK. “We have a harvest period of just four weeks. It’s been taken up a little bit but they [retailers] are not very interested in having something for just four weeks.”
The UK blackcurrant harvest lasts just four weeks
However, Hilditch, a fourth generation blackcurrant grower, is eager to see more blackcurrants on the produce aisles as well as in the frozen aisles. She also firmly believes that there is room for new opportunities in the marketplace and says: “We do have to keep looking at the market to grow and develop products and find and identify markets.” And so, as awareness of these mini superfruits inevitably increases, fresh produce buyers may want to consider the colour purple this summer.
Snell, Hilditch and Oakley were speaking at the 5th International Blackcurrant Association Conference held in June 2016 in Ashford, Kent.