Strategic advice for the food and beverage industry

Lessons from the kale fairytale

Kale was once the ugly duckling of the vegetable world. But it surprised everyone by blossoming into one of the coolest.

After initial success in America, kale has even spread its wings in Europe – you can buy high-protein kale quark in Finland and kale popcorn in France.

According to IRI, sales of products with kale grew 123% between 2013 and 2016 in the US. Mintel says that launches of products with kale increased 180% in the same period.

So how did this kale fairytale happen? There isn’t a simple answer, but here are some of the factors that worked for kale and that are key to making any natural food cool:

1. Make sure it’s nutritious – and talk about it. A lot.
Kale is high in vitamins C, K and A and its a source of calcium, iron and other minerals. While other vegetables are even bigger nutrient powerhouses than kale (spinach, chicory, other cabbages…) many consumers think kale is the uber-superfood of all greens – and that’s because the media talks about kale and its health benefits, a lot.

2. Make sure it’s versatile.
Kale works in smoothies, salads, sauces, snacks, beverages and spread. The options are endless, which makes it easier to give consumers new and exciting ways of incorporating kale in their diet.

3. Get it in the hip and trendy restaurants.
Kale salad – now a pretty regular option in many restaurants – could only be found in the trendiest ones a couple of years ago. In 2013, the New York Times wrote that kale salads were the “fashionable plat du jour”. If you want to make a vegetable cool, make sure it’s showing up in the recipes and menus of the cool chefs.

4. Find the right “good fairies”.
Key influencers played a big role in kale’s fortunes. Back in 2009 Dr. Oz introduced kale chips as one of his favourite snacks. In 2011, Ellen DeGeneres and Gwyneth Paltrow were making kale chips on Ellen’s TV show. In 2012 National Kale Day was born, created by a team headed by Drew Ramsey, a psychiatrist, farmer and author of the “50 Shades of Kale” recipe book. Even Beyonce stepped in with a “KALE” sweatshirt on her 7/11 music video.

5. The power of PR
The “godmother” of kale is Oberon Sinclair, founder of My Young Auntie, a boutique PR agency. She claimed to have been hired by the American Kale Association (AKA) to “make kale cool” in 2013. In 2016 the National Geographic called her the “woman behind the Big Kale”. Oberon has confirmed in a media interview that in fact it was she who created the AKA, its website and social media presence, describing it as her “Proudest campaign ever. I’ve been trying to convert people for years to eat in a healthy way. I’ve always loved [kale]. It is an amazing vegetable.”

Kale is now an established ingredient, available in mainstream retailers. Even McDonalds is adding it to their products. Whether kale will be able to keep its momentum is another question, but its journey is an inspiring one for anyone wondering what’s going to be “the next big superfood”.


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Posted in Editorial, Mainsite

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