In this week's New Yorker, John Colapinto explores the somewhat strange trajectory of the açaí (pronounced "ah-sah-ee") fruit, often heralded (though far from proven) as a superfruit that can aide in curing anything from autism to erectile dysfunction.
Açaí is grown along the Amazon River delta, and was brought to the U.S. about a decade ago by two brothers and a friend from Southern California. They founded the company Sambazon and started pitching the fruit as a cleansing, "high-antioxidant energy smoothie" to juice bars; they made $130,000 in sales during the first year.
As Sambazon grew more successful, other companies wanted a piece of the açaí pie. In the past few years, various açaí scams ranging from pyramid schemes to just flat-out lies about the health benefits have been discovered. These instances have hurt what Colapinto describes as Sambazon's "feel-good image" and created serious marketing and sales issues. Sales growth in açaí products in general have "slowed almost to a stop" but Sambazon remains a market leader with annual sales close to $50 million.
As is the case with many supposed superfruits, the açaí berry does have health benefits, but eating it isn't exactly going to cure chronic diseases. Nonetheless, it might be here to stay -- Karen Caplan, the CEO of specialty produce company Frieda's, explains that it took two decades for the kiwi to become a best-seller. Açaí has only been around the U.S. for half that time. For a small, strange-textured berry with a not-for-everyone taste, açaí has certainly made a name for itself in a relatively short amount of time.