While blueberries, pomegranates, almonds and even tart cherries have grabbed more “good for you” headlines in the past, industry leaders say sweet cherries also are sporting a glitzy health halo of their own.
B.J. Thurlby, president of Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Cherry Growers, said emerging research is confirming the role of sweet cherries in countering inflammatory diseases.
Tart cherries have been touted as a superfood with anti-inflammatory and heart benefits, and sweet cherries may have many of the same properties.
In particular, Thurlby said a study funded by the Northwest Cherry Growers has been published in the Journal of Nutrition.
In a paper called, “Sweet Bing Cherries Lower Circulating Concentrations of Markers for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases in Healthy Humans,” Darshan Kelley of the Western Human Nutrition Research Center found sweet cherry consumption selectively reduced several biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases.
Thurlby said the results of the health research will be a centerpiece of Northwest cherry promotions this year.
The commission purchases airtime on in-store radio in 13,000 retail stores from June 23 through Aug. 10, and Thurlby said those ads will reference the anti-inflammatory benefits of cherries.
“We will be talking to consumers about what makes sweet cherries unique,” he said.
Thurlby said the findings already published open the door for further research, including how sweet cherries may aid in countering insulin resistance in pre-diabetes conditions.
He said both domestic and international promotions will headline health benefits of the sweet cherry “superfruit,” he said.
“Cherries are chock-full of anthocyanins, a group of compounds shown to have particular importance in terms of reducing cancer risk, preventing cardiovascular disease, enhancing anti-inflammatory response and protecting neuronal cells involved in neurological function,” Thurlby said.
Cherries are also fat-free, a good source of potassium, are low glycemic and a source of melatonin.
“Consumers are increasingly reaching for “functional foods,” and cherries are chief among them,” he said.
Thurlby said retailers will play a key role in backing the science-based health messaging behind sweet cherries.
“We’ve got to partner with retailers to tell that story,” he said. “We can’t do it without them.”
The appeal of cherries is multifaceted, and Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing at Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., said the health message is important.
“Consumers are looking for healthier snack options,” she said.
The growing trend of supermarket-hired dieticians is positive for cherries and for all fresh produce, Wolter said.
Dieticians are interacting with consumers and the community through special events.
Wolter said retailers seek to emphasize their fresh departments and one way to do that is to highlight health messages in fresh produce items like cherries.
“If they have goals to increase produce consumption, one of the ways to do that is to include more health messaging and recipes,” she said.