Kithul: Sri Lanka’s Next Big Thing

With a worldwide pause in the form of COVID-19 restricting experimental gastronomic endeavours, the global market is currently being primed for a future influx of authentic food and beverages. Here is where Sri Lanka can swoop in with one of its most beloved yet severely under-utilised foods: Kithul. With consumers around the world looking for unique options to sustain diets and to have new experiences, Kithul may well be the perfect choice, with its range of products, to launch Sri Lanka into the global scene of food and beverage industry innovation.  

Caryota urens, locally known as “Kithul”, is a native Sri Lankan and Indian palm species that produces a sap that is currently used in Sri Lanka as a commonplace household food item. There are many advantages to consuming Kithul that if made known to the world, could skyrocket its demand in the market. Kitul treacle, flour, jiggery and fermented products could become “all the rage”, if marketed right. Not only is its appeal just right, the timing and circumstances of today’s consumer market could also be just right for a Kithul takeover. 

As a world, we have reset our calibrations in terms of what we consume and what we hold important. According to Mintel Trends (a global team of food and drink experts), there are three trend drivers that would create opportunities in the global market for food and beverages – wellbeing, value and identity. They predict that innovative food and drink formulations that offer mental and emotional wellbeing will be prioritized by global consumers, along with quality of products enveloped in trust as well as products that help establish consumers’ own personal brands while also making them part of a community. 

A report by the Import Promotion Desk configures Kithul syrup and flour to be exotic products for the European market and posits that the benefits of Kithul have to be made known to global consumers in order to create market demand. In line with the emerging trend of prioritizing mental and emotional wellbeing on the part of consumers, Kithul products are summarily healthier alternatives to sugar substances and are natural, are minimally processed, contain high levels of antioxidants, have amino acids and a Low Glycemic Index. The data presented in the June 2020 Import Promotion Desk report strongly supports the argument that Kithul could easily become of the America’s and Europe’s new trendy “superfoods” if marketed appropriately. 

The 2018 report by the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade titled “National Export Strategy of Sri Lanka: Processed Food and Beverages Sector Strategy, 2018-2022”, acknowledges that “Sri Lankan products have high quality and have healthy characteristics due to the excellence of local raw materials and the industry’s commitment to investment in manufacturing processes”. Sri Lankan Kithul producers need only tap into the rich history surrounding the country’s Kithul industry to weave a golden treacle tapestry of a tale that provides insight and assigns recognizable value to the products in question. The natural advantages of consuming Kithul products, which include health benefits, supporting an industry that empowers Kithul farmers as masters of their craft and being part of a unique community that appreciates and engages in consuming the products of a small island nation in the Indian Ocean can undoubtedly capture the interest, indulgence and loyalty of consumers worldwide, if producers and marketers in the field play their cards right. 

Kithul production is a process steeped in history and practicality; a story irresistible to the Western consumer looking for something new and one that can be easily authenticated by any Sri Lankan, thus placing great value in the idea of Kithul as well as the final products. North America was the second largest region in the global food and beverage industry in 2020, according to The Business Research Company, and continues to be a fixture in the market, along with Europe and the Asian regions. Given that these great shareholders are looking for authenticity, healthier options and the coveted opportunity to feel like they belong in a community, Sri Lanka’s Kithul products could penetrate these markets with some strategic marketing, sound investments and a finished look that has an international appeal. 

History affords Sri Lanka a reputation for being a haven for food products not typically found anywhere else. Using Sri Lanka’s enticing origin story and the almost magical science behind Kithul tree tapping, Kithul products could be Sri Lanka’s “next big thing” in the global market, provided it is repurposed, packaged and marketed to fall in line with emerging food trends. We need only pay attention to what the market wants and supply it with renewed interest, effort and determination.

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