With sleep now recognized as a critical component of mental and physical wellness and the desire to “sleep better” is a top driver of a healthy lifestyle, product development teams are seeking natural ingredients for product innovations to help consumers achieve a better night’s rest.

From sleep-friendly ice cream to rest-and-recover sips to calming beverages, innovations to boost relaxation are cropping up on more and more grocery shelves.  In fact, according to Nutrition Business Journal, sleep and relaxation is fast-growing category of functional foods and beverages, with 13.7% growth from 2020 to 2021.

Researchers have claimed that sleep is essential to bodily processes and affects everything from immunity and metabolism to chronic disease risk and mental health. Therefore, it’s no surprise that product development teams are prioritizing slumber-friendly innovations and are seeking natural ingredients linked to improved shut eye to meet the needs of health-conscious consumers.

Tart cherries, also known as sour cherries, are an ingredient that is increasingly interesting to product development teams as they consider formulations designed for specific health benefits.  Known for their unique, on-trend sweet tart taste, tart cherries are now gaining additional attention for their versatility, nutrient density, and potential health benefits.

Tart cherries are one of the few natural food sources of melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates the body’s circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle.  Preliminary studies on tart cherries have explored the duration and quality of sleep, insomnia, and sleep efficiency.  The research is still emerging and more studies are needed to confirm the role of tart cherries on achieving a better night’s sleep.

In addition to sleep, scientific researchers have explored tart cherry consumption on exercise recovery, gout attacks, arthritis symptoms, heart health, blood pressure and gut health. The distinctive taste and vibrant red color of tart cherries are due to the concentration of anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol in the flavonoids family.

Thanks to years of scientific research and their nutrient density, these ruby-red orbs have established a superfruit reputation, which has strong appeal to millennials and health-conscious consumers.  Nearly all of the health research on cherries has been conducted on the Montmorency tart cherry varietal, which is the variety of tart cherry most commonly grown in the United States.

Ingredient origin is meaningful to developers as consumers increasingly want to support local agriculture. The Montmorency varietal is primarily grown on small, generations old family farms and an analysis by Datassential confirmed that 92% of consumers prefer a U.S.-grown tart cherry vs. an imported tart cherry.  The ability to tout U.S.-grown on a package label is a positive advantage to sourcing U.S.-grown tart cherries vs. imported tart cherries for new food and beverage innovations.

Montmorency tart cherries are harvested in the summer and are quickly frozen to maximize their quintessential flavor and preserve their bright red color.  This processing allows for consistent, year-round availability in various forms including dried, frozen, purred, canned, juice and juice concentrate. This assortment of tart cherry products assures a seamless fit into any manufacturing environment and a variety of applications including beverages, bars and bites.