Super health ingredients from Africa becoming popular

Baobab Tree

Natural ingredients from Africa are being used more and more in natural health products in Europe. Many, like baobab, moringa and fonio are becoming popular because of their high nutrient content. But exporters in developing countries face many difficulties, such as regulations and distribution.

The continent of Africa is now becoming a rich source of natural ingredients, some with unique nutritional features.

Many natural ingredients originate from the African continent. Some like shea butter, are already well established. It is produced from shea kernel nuts, collected from the shea tree. They are found in the dry savannah belt of West and South Africa. Shea trees grow in the wild in 19 African countries. Women collect and process the nuts into a fat, which is used by the food and cosmetic industries. Swedish-Danish company AAK was among the first to set up supply chains for shea butter since the 1950s. At the 2019 Sustainable Beauty Awards, its Kolo Nafaso programme received the Sustainability Pioneer award. The programme provides an income to over 230,000 women who collect shea in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Another African natural ingredient is Baobab. It is making progress in food and nutraceutical applications (see CBI report). The ingredient comes from the baobab tree, known as Africa’s ‘tree of life’. First it is dried naturally, turning the fruit pulp into a powder. This powder is rich in vitamin C, phosphorus, calcium, fibre, carbohydrates, protein, potassium and lipids. It is sold as a superfood because of its high nutrient density. The CBI study ‘The European market potential for baobab’ shows the opportunities for baobab.

UK company Aduna was one of the first to introduce baobab-based products into Europe in 2012. In the same way as AAK, it has set up supply chains for its raw materials in Ghana, Malawi, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Uganda. Like shea nuts, baobab is picked and collected by local workers by hand. Aduna sources organic baobab directly from them.

Moringa is indigenous to Africa and South Asia. It is also nutrient-rich and sold as a superfood. Moringa powder comes from naturally dried leaves from the moringa tree. It is used in traditional African and Indian medicine. Moringa has almost 540 compounds that can treat or prevent about 300 health issues.

Moringa powder has high protein content and is rich in iron, vitamins K & E, and antioxidants. In Africa and Asia, it is used to treat diabetes, heart disease, anaemia, arthritis, liver disease, as well as respiratory, skin and digestive disorders. Moringa is usually eaten as powder or in supplements. It is also used in various food products, such as teas, drinks, and snack bars. The CBI study on Moringa describes the opportunities for moringa on the European market.

Fonio is a new addition to the African superfood category. Fonio is described as an ancient supergrain, grown in West Africa for 5,000 years. The gluten-free grain is part of the millet family. It is rich in iron and amino acids, and a source of zinc, vitamin B1 and B3 and phosphorus. Pierre Thiam, one of Africa’s leading chefs, has introduced fonio into the US market via Yolélé Foods. Thiam is promoting the African grain in various ways. He wrote a cookbook (The Fonio Cookbook), sells Yolélé branded products, and speaks about it at the Sustainable Foods Summit. Yolélé Foods works with small subsistence farmers in West Africa to source the grain.

Regulations and distribution form major difficulties for natural ingredients entering the European market. The European market has some of the strictest regulations for natural ingredients. For example, new food ingredients have to be registered as a novel food with the European Commission. Fonio was only made available in the European market after it received EU approval in December 2018.

Ecovia Intelligence believes distribution could prove even more difficult. Africa is becoming a hotspot for new natural ingredients. But few companies are entering the European market because of entry restrictions. In some ways, it is better for African producers to work directly with European companies like Aduna than to set up new supply chains.

Furthermore, Aduna and Yolélé Foods are businesses with high social values. They have purpose-driven business models in which they want to increase income for African farmers. Like AAK, they want to make the lives of African farmers better. For this reason, many producers in developing countries are advised to work with such companies. This helps them become successful exporters of natural ingredients.

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This news article has been published for CBI by Ecovia Intelligence

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