But now, the craze for beetroot has caught on with the general public as new figures shows that sales of the product have soared to almost £1 million a week.
The vegetable, once considered an old-fashioned product most often found pickled on a 1950s buffet table, has benefited from its new status as a healthy “superfood” – sparking the launch of an array of new products on supermarket shelves.
Data from analysts Kantar Worldpanel shows that UK sales of fresh beetroot which were only £30 million a year a decade ago have risen from £42.8m in 2013 to £50.5m this year.
The demand for the vegetable – which is low in fat, full of vitamins and minerals and packed with powerful antioxidants – has been attributed to its becoming a firm favourite with food writers and celebrity chefs, such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Deliciously Ella, who have endorsed its health benefits.
Athletes have begun to praise its effect on their performance, including Paralympic four-times-gold medallist David Weir who credited the vegetable as his “secret weapon”.
Earlier this year, a study at Queen Mary University of London found that regular consumption of beetroot juice significantly reduced high blood pressure, while a research project at Exeter University has claimed that competitive cyclists who drink around 500ml of beetroot juice before riding their bikes were able to ride for 16 per cent longer.
Trade magazine The Grocer said: “From ‘old people’ veg to trendy must-have beetroot is making its way into more and more food and drink products as the earthy veg continues to benefit from its status as a healthy ‘superfood’.”
The magazine said that over the past 12 months, the top five UK supermarkets have increased the number of products they stock containing beetroot as a key listed ingredient by 20 per cent.
New beetroot products have appeared in juice and soup fixtures, on fresh fish counters and in yoghurt aisles.
New products listed include Innocent’s Skip to the Beet juice, Tropicana banana, strawberry and beetroot juice and Sainsbury’s own-label Thai beetroot soup.
Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, has also introduced a number of new fresh beetroot products as part of its recent salad range review including a diced beetroot deli pot and barbecue beetroot relish.
Anthony Gardiner, marketing director at G’s Fresh, a major supplier of beetroot to the leading supermarkets, said that sales had been boosted by beetroot’s well-documented superfood status. He said: “There has been a lot of university work on the benefits of beetroot over the past six years and we are expecting more research in the next year, including the positive effects it can have on hypertension and endurance.”
Mr Gardiner added that the health benefits had made beetroot a firm favourite with food writers, while convenience products such as infused beetroot had boosted its use as an ingredient.
Beetroots have long been used for medicinal purposes, often for disorders of the liver as a natural stimulant of the organ’s detoxification processes.