Açaí power: How much growth potential does this nutritious native berry truly have?

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / cocogelado
© Getty Images / cocogelado
The açaí berry market has boomed in the last decade, driven by its super food status in Western markets but what does the future hold for this antioxidant-rich fruit?

By the end of 2026, global sales of açaí berry will surpass the 1m tonnes mark, up from just 300,000 tonnes in 2016, according to Future Market Insights​. Food and beverage will remain the largest application segment, significantly ahead of nutraceuticals and cosmetics, and should generate revenues of around US$2bn by the end of the forecast period.

The açaí palm tree is native to Central and South America and can be found in the Amazon Forest and parts of the Atlantic Forest. More than 90% of cultivation happens in the North of Brazil where indigenous communities harvest the berries, known as 'wild collection', working alongside processors, distributors and exporters.

Super food status

Rachit Kumar, food and beverages consultant at Future Market Insights, said initial demand for açaí berries started in the early 2000s.

“The demand was evident with the rise in export demand for açaí berry from Brazil that began in the year 2003. Açaí pulp export volume rose by a whopping 140% in the year 2003, against the previous year. Increased popularity as a super food gained açaí berry export demand, mainly from the importing destinations of US, Europe, Australia and Japan,”​ Kumar told NutraIngredients.

This demand, he said, would be sustained at current levels across the world in the coming years and was “unlikely to peak” ​because of increased interest in products with similar nutritional profiles to the berry, like vitamin-C nourishment.

Rich in nutrients, being high in antioxidants, vitamin C, fibers and good fats, Kumar said the berry was associated with numerous health benefits like reducing inflammation, boosting energy, strengthening the immune system and improving blood circulation. The nutrient-dense fruit also held appeal because it was relatively low in calories and also rich in dietary fiber and protein. 

According to Future Market Insights, the market share of food and beverages using açaí berry was set to grow between 9.9% and 11% Year-on-Year until 2026, bolstered by the “booming demand” ​from the super fruit juice industry, and revenues generated from açaí food and beverages would rise at a CAGR of 13%.

Catering to demand – there are 'big challenges'

Asked if industry had been able to keep up with these soaring demands, Kumar said so far, it had, primarily due to advancement in production technology.

For example, Frooty Açaí, a Brazilian manufacturer of açaí-based products, invested US$2.6m in the modernization and expansion of its açaí berry processing unit located in São Paulo’s Atibaia municipality,​” he said.

However, he said harvesting and transportation of the açaí berries remained “the biggest challenges”​ facing the sector, particularly given collection and transportation of the fruits still happened using traditional baskets and motor boats to navigate the flooded plains.

“A high level of care needs to be considered as the açaí fruit is mostly grown in the flooded region of the Amazon. The main transport challenge to açaí exportation is due to fruit delicateness and its seasonal production. The quick transfer of fruits to the processing facilities is the biggest challenge faced by the açaí pulp manufacturers,​” Kumar said.

Ming_Liu_ex_director
Ming Liu, executive-director of Brasil Organics

Ming Liu, executive-director of Brasil Organics, agreed time was of the essence when cultivating açaí berries.

“Açaí, when it's collected from the trees, needs to be processed in less than 24 hours. There is a very huge cost when they collect açaí, clean and process it,” ​he said.

But, he said there was scope to improve production. For example, introducing more freeze-drying on-site could drastically improve the value chain, locking in nutrients, lengthening shelf life and making shipping and final processing much easier.

“This way makes more sense. The dry product is going to be more effective in growing in the international market,” ​Liu said.

The açaí plateau

However, he said growth in the international market would unlikely maintain the strong pace that had been seen in the past decade or so.

“I don't believe the product will grow continuously because right now there's a new trend of other products like ancient grains, kombucha and several other products. This is my personal view. I see industry is exploring these ingredients in the same way açaí was explored.”

In addition, Liu said growth of the açaí market was limited by the natural capacity of wild cultivation , in terms of how many trees grew in the wild, because açaí couldn't just be farmed in mass.

“More and more we see land for wild produce in the Amazon and even the Atlantic Forest diminishing, not growing.”

“...I think in the long-range, açaí will still be an important ingredient that people look for when they look for healthy products but I don't think there will be that huge boom that happened between 2007 and 2010/11 when everything was launching with açaí flavors. It has reached that plateau – it will continue to grow but more steadily,” ​Liu said.

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