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By: Simone Baroke

    The global grapefruit market is decidedly sluggish. A closer look reveals that it is industrialised markets that are seeing sales suffer the most. The ravages of the, thus far, incurable citrus greening disease is no doubt part of the reason, but it is far from the whole story. The core problem, it seems, is that grapefruit is failing to meet the needs of today’s consumers on several fronts. Besides lacking in convenience, it is too bitter for children, too low in protein for dieters, and downright dangerous for more mature consumers.

    Growth centred on emerging markets

    Our fresh food data demonstrates a gradual but steady decline in grapefruit growth rates over the review period. While in 2009, global volume growth stood at 2% – a fairly respectable growth rate in fresh food – by 2014, this had atrophied to 1%.

    Sales contraction was most severe in Japan, with a decline of 35% recorded over the review period, followed by Germany and France (30% each), Canada (17%) and the US (14%). In Australasia, Australia saw grapefruit sales stagnate, while New Zealand saw a drop of 8%.

    The majority of the countries where grapefruit sales are still delivering a good growth performance are emerging and developing economies, such as Russia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Colombia.

    A grapefruit a day… might kill you

    One of the reasons why grapefruit is falling out of favour in highly industrialised countries with rapidly ageing populations is that doctors are telling their patients not to eat them.

    The reason why medical professionals are doling out this advice is that a group of phytochemicals (furanocoumarins) naturally occurs in the fruit and inhibits the enzymatic breakdown of certain drugs in the body. The result may be an overdose of these drugs in the body if grapefruit and grapefruit juice are consumed regularly, with potentially very serious consequences for the patient. This undesirable drug-food interaction concerns a considerable number of commonly prescribed medications, including antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering statins and several drugs employed in the treatment of cardio-vascular and heart disease.

    According to (US) industry sources, grapefruits’ core consumer group is over 50-year-olds, which is a time of life when health problems – and particularly those related to cardiovascular disease – first tend to appear. Usually, this motivates people to improve their eating habits, and consuming more fresh fruit is often on top of the list. However, as soon as medication gets involved, grapefruit loses out.

    Grapefruit diet out of fashion

    Weight management aspirations can play a notable role in determining consumers’ food choices. It is also well known that this area is subject to one-off fads as well as trends that are cyclical in nature. And it just so happens that the grapefruit diet, which has been in and out of fashion since the 1930s, is currently very much out of favour.

    Right now, what dieters want is high protein, and of that, the grapefruit offers precious little. A naturally low energy content cannot compensate for its protein shortfall, since calorie counting is currently passé.

    The fact that the supposed “fat burning potential” of the grapefruit has never been scientifically substantiated does not help matters much either. It may well be some time before we see the grapefruit make a return to the dieter’s breakfast table.

    The convenience hurdle

    Another nail in the coffin for grapefruit is its lack of convenience compared to other fruit. You cannot just grab it like a banana or an apple and eat it on the go. Grapefruit eating is definitely a sit-down affair.

    Grapefruits also tend to leave much to be desired in the easy-peel department, and many varieties’ segments do not separate very easily either, making for a rather messy eating experience. And nor do these bulky fruits conveniently fit into a lunch box like smaller citrus types, such as satsumas or mandarins.

    Children just do not like them

    In addition, grapefruits’ characteristic flavour profile does nothing to endear them to another prime fresh fruit target group, ie children. They just do not care for bitter flavours, an appreciation of which tends to develop in adulthood.

    Since grapefruits are also quite large in size, they are not ideal for small hands and stomachs. In order to make fruit and vegetables more appealing to children, new product development in recent years has focused on mini-sizing produce. So far, the grapefruit has not enjoyed much attention in this regard, and nor is it an advisable route to take, considering the taste barrier.

    What does the future hold for grapefruit? Nothing too riveting, it has to be said. Although we expect fresh grapefruit consumption to increase by 9% globally over the forecast period, reaching 4.5 million tonnes in 2019, performance in developed markets is not predicted to recover. US consumption is likely to decline by another 10%, Japan’s by 25% and Germany’s by 5%.

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