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Henry Johnson, Sales Manager for Europe, Baobab Foods: „Retailers are all desperate to feature new and innovative products that will both inspire and retain their existing customers and attract new ones”.

27/06/2016 12:40

Located in Bellevue, USA, Baobab Foods have been in the baobab fruit business for over five years, growing to become the largest exporter of organic Baobab Fruit Powder from the southern African region globally, and the largest importer into the US with approximately 70% market share. For the first time, the American company exhibited this year in Amsterdam at PLMA International Fair, attracting the attention of buyer attendance. For Europeans, the baobab fruit powder is almost unknown, few really knowing the value of this fruit in the diet. Therefore talk about a niche product with high added value, which can generate for retail chains coveted distinction.

Brandprivat.ro guest is Henry Johnson, sales manager for Europe, Baobab Foods. With an experience of over 12 years in business consulting and management, Henry worked for three years for PhytoTrade Africa, a non-profit organization specializing in the marketing of African fruits wild-harvested in socio-economic benefit of rural communities and conservation. His role - as manager of baobab fruit segment - consisted in promoting globally the fruit of the baobab for food and beverage industry. From this position was subsequently recruited by Baobab Foods as a sales manager for Europe.


Why should we focus baobab fruit? This food is so beneficial for human consumption?

Baobab Fruit Powder is a wild-harvested, raw whole food that naturally dehydrates inside the fruits of the African Baobab tree. In fact it is one of the few fruit on the planet where the actual ripe fruit is a completely dry powder. It is thought that this process of dehydration actually concentrates the nutrients, making baobab exceptionally nutritious. As a result, at 140,000 ORAC units per 100g, it has one of the highest antioxidant profiles of any fruit on the planet. It is a rich source of vitamin C, packed with calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium, and contains 50% dietary fiber which research has shown to be prebiotic in nature. These outstanding nutritional attributes have earned Baobab Fruit Powder the label of a superfood.

Baobab’s unique flavour, texture and nutritional content makes it a fantastic functional addition to a wide range of products – from snack bars to smoothies, bakery to beverages – or a key part of any retail superfoods range. It is highly alkalizing and has been demonstrated to lower the glycemic index (GI) of white bread when added to the baking mix, lending itself to potential applications in low GI bakery products, weight loss and control of diabetes.


Despite the rule of niche, European consumer is informed and at the same time concerned about sustainability.

Baobab Foods is committed to socially responsible and sustainable production of baobab. As a result, we only source from ethical, locally based suppliers that involve local communities in their harvesting and can demonstrate that they help empower those rural communities to create positive social impacts. In addition to the socioeconomic aspect, the trade in baobab is also helping the environment. The forests and savannahs of southern Africa have fallen victim to widespread deforestation, not just through commercial logging but also by local communities chopping down trees for fire wood or clearing land for small-scale agriculture. As a result, Africa’s indigenous tree species are fast disappearing. But by creating a market for the fruit of the baobab tree, Baobab Foods and its suppliers are making it more valuable for local communities to preserve their natural habitat. This model of conservation through the commercialisation of wild-harvested plant products is proving to be highly effective in helping to slow the rapid degradation of southern Africa’s indigenous forests. And baobab is a shining example of that model working.


We speak of a super-fruit with high added value for human consumption but also with a huge potential and good quality innovations.

Last year, Baobab Foods launched BaoBites™ in the USA, a unique range of baobab super-fruit chews. And this month they launched them in Europe at the PLMA World of Private Label trade show in Amsterdam.

Targeted at food manufacturers and private label brands seeking to bring new ideas, functionality and flavours to their dried fruit content, BaoBites™ are deliciously chewy fruit morsels that can be easily integrated into a wide variety of food products including cereals and granolas, fruit & nut mixes, nutrition bars, baking products, ice creams, used as stand-alone fruit snacks, or as a base for panned chocolate or yoghurt coatings.

BaoBites™ are a truly unique way to add natural antioxidants and a flavour punch to a variety of food products. And with our ability to subtly adjust the water activity, flavours and other nutritional ingredients, we can completely customize each order of BaoBites™ to suit multiple food applications and sectors, including frozen and bakery.

Made with simple natural ingredients, including wild-harvested organic Baobab Fruit Powder, real fruit concentrates and pectins, BaoBites™ are vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, free of cholesterol and allergens, and contain only natural fruit sugars. They come in a variety of flavours including Pomegranate, Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Blood Orange, Tart Cherry, Meyer Lemon, even Sweet Potato, and in innovative flavour combinations such as Peach Mango, Coconut Peach Mango and Carrot Mango.


Baobab Foods decided to cross the ocean, targeting Europe as a new market. Europe can be a huge opportunity. But is Europe ready for new products?

Absolutely! Europe is a hub for clean food innovation, and we are really excited about working with European companies to explore the commercial opportunities our BaoBites™ can bring to their research and development pipelines.

In addition, baobab is already well established as a superfood in Europe and the number of food brands featuring baobab as a lead ingredient in their products is increasing all the time. However, there is no other baobab product like BaoBites™ in Europe right now and we believe that the opportunities for European food formulators are endless.


What reactions have gathered at PLMA? The products have attracted the attention of food manufacturers or retailers?

PLMA was a revelation for us. We were completely overwhelmed with the level of interest. In an ocean of olive oil and tinned vegetable products, I think our stand at the trade show stood out as a breath of fresh air for buyers and researchers from food manufacturers and private label brands who were all looking for something different, something new to take back to their concept and innovation teams. And we found that they all really connected with our positioning of BaoBites™ as a healthier, nutritious and more functional alternative to dried fruit ingredients. We could literally see them visualising new product development ideas as we talked to them.

We had many serious inquiries from major retailers interested in putting our BaoBites™ on their shelves under our own brand and packaging. But we decided early on in our journey that whilst we are excellent at producing exciting and innovative products, we are not geared up to be a retail brand. As a result, we prefer to work with private label and food brands already experienced in bringing their own finished products to market.


Are retail chains open for new products?

I believe that the conservatism of past years where retail chains played it safe by only stocking mainstream products is over. Competition amongst retailers is as fierce as it has ever been, and our impression is that they are all desperate to feature new and innovative products that will both inspire and retain their existing customers and attract new ones. We are finding that even the large-scale retail supermarket chains, such as Costco in the USA, are increasingly the pioneers in early-adoption style products. It is certainly a very exciting time to be a food innovator.


A new and innovated product can be a differentiator for retailers, in their strategy open for innovations. If we are making a parallel between American consumer and the European one, is this last one educated and informed, ready for new products?

It’s a good question, but I think it is impossible to make a direct comparison at the macro level. Europe is a region of approximately 23 different languages spread across 50 countries, each with their own unique cultural characteristics, cuisine, tastes and consumer buying behaviours. The USA is a country of 50 states with the same language and broadly similar in culture. They are both so different. I would say that there are some European countries that demonstrate a higher level of consumer acceptance to food innovation than the USA, and some that do not.


European consumer is looking more and more for traceability and organic products. What can you tell us about? 

We fully support the drive towards more organic produce on retail shelves. But it is the growing awareness and demand amongst consumers for products to demonstrate full transparency in the traceability of their food products that we think is really exciting. Why is traceability so important? It is not just about supply chain management and public safety, although these are very important. It is about empowering the consumer to make clearly informed decisions about their food choices based on their individual values. Our baobab is sourced from suppliers who help rural African communities raise themselves above the poverty line and protect their indigenous tree populations. But there are plenty of unethical suppliers out there who exploit communities. We believe it is important that consumers can understand the impact their food choices are having both socioeconomically and environmentally.


The reactions recorded at the PLMA fair in Amsterdam will lead to an update of your European strategy?

PLMA really helped us understand that European food manufacturers and private label brands are hungry for innovation and ready to embrace new concepts, such as our next generation of BaoBites™ that have been specifically tailored with a higher water activity for bakery products. In fact, I can confirm that as a direct result of the overwhelming response from the show we are planning to invest in a new BaoBites™ production facility in the heart of Europe.


What are the products you have recommended buyers come to Amsterdam?

I think it is important to note that there are two distinct groups of buyers for our BaoBites™.

The first group are from those brands that will simply repackage and market BaoBites™ as a stand-alone healthy snack. We recommend two sizes of packaging: 40g bags (which represents one serving) and 150-200g bags (which are re-sealable and designed to be carried in a handbag or stored at home). The recommended retail price for 40g would be €1.30 and for 150g €4.60.

The second group are from brands that will innovate with our BaoBites™ as an ingredient in finished food products such as fruit bars, bakery products, cereals etc. Each company is different, and so we dedicate resources to working closely with the research & development teams from these companies to help them really push the boundaries and create truly unique and ground breaking products. For us, we view success as when the brands that use our products are successful.


Did you signed contracts for private labels and if so, can you tell us what retail chains and what markets?

We cannot divulge which specific companies we are currently in discussions with. However I can say that they range from small start-ups to global multinationals with annual turnovers of several billion euros. And we are seeing a broad diversity in approaches to how they plan to incorporate our products into their retail offerings. It is a very exciting time for us and we see Europe as a significant growth market.


Given that many countries talk of niche products, what is your recommendation for Baobab Fruits products: entry level? Mainstream? Or premium?

BaoBites™ are definitely a mainstream product, whether they are simply packaged as a stand-alone healthy snack or used as an ingredient in a finished food product.

Organic Baobab Fruit Powder should be mainstream when used an ingredient in a finished food or beverage product. However if a food or private label brand were to sell our Baobab Fruit Powder as a stand-alone packaged superfood, then logically this would sit best in health food stores and therefore be a niche product.


Thank you and good luck in this new challenge!

ec. Florin Frasineanu



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