- Kale's meteoric rise from vegetable-next-door to a must-have superfood was driven by three factors, David Sax, author of The Tastemakers, told The New Hope Network: versatility, availability, and cultural significance.
- Kale can be eaten raw or cooked, has a long growing season in a variety of climates and has become an emblem of healthy eating that restaurants and food manufacturers were quick to capitalize on. "It was an edible Prius. It was a cultural signifier," Sax said.
- Sax said that for an ingredient to be the "next kale," it must share the vegetable's three star factors. Some food industry players predict that drinking vinegars or duck weed could rise to to food stardom, while others wonder if the boom-and-bust cycle of functional superfood popularity has run its course.
According to Nielsen data, kale has seen significant sales growth in the last year. Frozen breakfast entrees that feature kale experienced 391% sales growth between 2016 and 2017 alone. Dollar sales of kale-based vitamins and supplements also grew by 125%, and pasta sauce that featured the superfood saw sales climb 60% during the same period.
The vegetable became ubiquitous not simply because it was a health food, but because it became an emblem of the health food movement, say Sax and other industry experts. Because of this, some feel that it's unlikely another ingredient will experience the same stardom. This won't stop ingredient producers and food manufacturers from trying to take their products from niche to mainstream, however.
Drinking vinegars could be poised for a similar explosion of popularity, if marketed correctly. Consumers, especially millennilas, are turning away from soda and other sugary drink categories in the search for something healthy, authentic and flavorful. This has already driven the popularity of vinegars in natural and organic health stores, but the beverage category has yet to go mainstream. Some manufacturers are attempting to push the product's versatility by positioning it as an alcoholic mixer, while others encourage consumers to use it as a way to improve and regulate gut health, a growing focus in the health and wellness space.
It will be interesting to see if more major brands begin venturing into this space, either by acquiring a small drinking vinegar maker or experimenting with their own branded product formula. PepsiCo has acquired sparkling probiotic drink maker KeVita, which boasts an assortment of apple cider drinking vinegars and kombucha beverages.
In order to reach kale's level of fame, the category will likely need help from social media influencers, celebrity chefs on popular TV shows and partnerships with well-known restaurants to engage general audiences. Only time will tell, however, if drinking vinegar — or any other functional ingredient — will attain kale's ubiquity.