Coffee fruit has been bubbling under the radar as an ingredient to watch for several years, however 2017 looks set to finally propel the “super” fruit into the mainstream thanks to an innovative new launch from Starbucks and Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s acquisition of Bai Brands; makers of coffee-fruit infused beverages.

Usually discarded as a by-product of coffee production, coffee fruit is the outer husk that surrounds the coffee bean, which is known to be extremely high in antioxidants to help promote good health and fight disease. Indeed, in 2013 Canadean first highlighted the fruit’s potential to be “one of the most sustainably produced super foods in the world” by utilizing the waste product from coffee production, as part of its future focused ForeSights series.

Given the close link to coffee, its’ apt that Starbucks have introduced a coffee fruit based beverage – the Cascara Latte – as part of its new hot drink line-up in stores across the US from January 2017. The new menu addition is a natural fit as the chain are utilizing some of the waste fruit associated with harvesting the coffee beans they already use; enhancing their ethical credentials of the brand while at the same time offering novelty to consumers who enjoy experimenting with new products and flavors.

Although the ethical is advantage is something Starbucks should promote, the flavor itself – the latte is said to have a mild sweet fruity flavor with subtle flavors of maple and brown sugar – will be key to success. According to Global Data’s Q3 2016 consumer survey, 76% of US consumers consider living an ethical or sustainable life important however just 32% cite ethical factors to be influential on their choice of non-alcoholic beverages often or always. By comparison, 74% consider how enjoyable or unique the product (or its flavor) is as influential. While the sustainability of coffee fruit is a great advantage in that it makes the consumer feel good about their choice; it will be the taste that will ultimately drive consumption.

Dr Pepper Snapple Group has also spotted coffee fruits’ potential, announcing in November 2016 that it was buying US-based Bai Brands for $1.7bn. Aside from the sustainability angle, the key attraction of Bai Brands is the offering of healthy low calorie beverages infused with antioxidants from coffee fruit. The move comes as industry faces growing pressure to cut sugar and improve health perceptions in an ailing soft drinks category. This latest acquisition highlights the investment leading brands are willing to make to find innovative healthier ingredients, such as coffee fruit, that can help turnaround the fortunes of the category.

With large multi-national brands now recognizing coffee fruit’s potential both as a healthy and sustainable ingredient, it is only a matter of time before other big players in the beverage space start to experiment. However, to achieve success it is important that brands promote sensory attributes in parallel to ethical or health credentials. The mild flavor of coffee fruit means manufacturers can easily blend it into beverages to create tasty and unique combinations that will appeal to consumers’ desire for exciting and enjoyable products. Marketed to consumers in the right way, 2017 may be the year beverage industry finally capitalises on coffee fruits’ position as one of the most sustainably produced super foods in the world.