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Dried fruit's new image: the dried fruit category is on the upswing, as consumers look for healthy fruit sources and suppliers reinvigorate the category with new flavors, packaging and sizes. (Focus on Fresh).

Reinventing a product's image can still be a successful venture, especially if it is a prune. About two years ago, prunes underwent a makeover when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the dried fruit industry transitioned its name to "dried plums." The new name and subsequent packaging not only freshened dried plums' image and reputation with consumers, but also helped raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of dried fruit and its availability in stores. Now, the entire dried fruit industry is looking to reinvigorate the $500 million category with new flavors, packaging and sizes, and retailers are striving to maximize profits on the "other" fruit on the block.

"In years past, there had been a general lack of excitement around the category, very little innovation in new products and packaging had not really maintained pace with other categories in other industries," says Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Sunsweet Growers Inc., based in Yuba City, Calif. "But for the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence in innovation in terms of new products, packaging, high-impact graphics and display-ready cases."

The most popular varieties of dried fruit, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), are raisins, representing 40% dollar share; other dried fruits, claiming 32.9% dollar share; and dried plums, grabbing 18.2% dollar share. As long-standing veterans in the dried fruit industry, raisins and dried plums are a significant segment of the market and suppliers of both are regaining recognition for these fruits as healthy sources of vitamins and antioxidants that meet consumers' recommended daily allowance.

Sunsweet, for example, recently rolled out three flavor essences of dried plums in an effort to reposition the products in consumers minds. The company's Cherry Essence Pitted Dried Plums have realized great success so far, notes Nager, exceeding distribution objectives. Also offered in Orange Essence and Lemon Essence, these flavor-coated dried plums are targeted to women aged 35 to 54 seeking healthful, natural and convenient snacks. In addition to the company's core consumer of men and women 60 years of age and over, pregnant women and young children are beginning to catch on to the good taste and nutritional benefits

of dried plums.

Sun-Maid Growers of California, based in Kingsburg, Calif., is also attempting to reposition its products in stores with more available sizes. According to Rob Muller, director of marketing for Sun-Maid, consumers are incorporating raisins in their diets as a healthy, low-fat snack that gives them an energy boost. He explains that the emphasis on different uses of raisins shifts from season to season and the company adjusts for these demands through size variety. "What we as an industry try to do is develop different packaging that will adapt to different consumer needs during different times of the year," says Muller. "One study we refer to stated that 84% of the purchases of dried fruit are made at retail. So, getting package visibility on the store shelf and on displays is very important."

Although raisins and dried plums represent almost 60% of the dried fruit category, specialty dried fruit is driving growth. More importantly, it was the only growth segment in food stores in the period ending June 16, 2002, according to IRI. Observers say specialty dried fruit is key to laying the foundation for dried fruit's future. To that end, Sun-Maid and Sun. sweet are adding such products as dried apricots, cranberries, figs, cherries, peaches, mixed fruits, and yogurt and chocolate covered raisins to their dried fruit offerings. Featuring these products in bright, colorful packaging is also important to attracting various consumer groups. Many specialty fruits are available in gusseted bags with high-impact graphics and a resealable zipper lock in order to grab consumer attention and help preserve post-purchase freshness.

Natural food companies, such as Eden Foods Inc., are also jumping on the specialty dried fruit bandwagon. The Clinton, Mich.-based company recently introduced Dried Montmorency Tart Cherries, which are infused with Eden's organic apple juice concentrate.

The dried cherries are sourced from orchards that are transitional to organic.

Even with new innovations and product "makeovers," dried fruit is still not usually at the top of consumers' minds when they go shopping. Observers point to two major obstacles: consumer awareness and positioning in stores. In order to increase consumer awareness, many say that retailers need to display dried fruit items not only in the grocery aisles, but also in the produce department. After all, dried fruit is still a fruit, says Nager.

"We offer our full line of raisins and dried fruits to both grocery and produce buyers," says Muller. "They key is to place it where it is most highly visible and where the section will be properly maintained so that it has a nice, clean, neat appearance that will maximize the sales of dried fruit." To further help retailers merchandise dried fruit, Sun-Maid has developed a cookbook that contains a variety of recipes, from spreads and salads to main dishes and rice.

Because dried fruit is often an impulse item, displaying it in a high-traffic area such as the produce department can help to increase sales, Shoppers looking for a fresh, convenient food item usually go to the perimeter of the store, explains Nager, and retailers can capitalize on these shopping patterns.

Dates are a perfect example of a fruit frequently grouped with the dried fruit category that is merchandised in the fresh produce aisle. Whether they are fresh or semi-dried, dates are also becoming a sought after commodity as supplies increase. "If it is close to a power item, it's going to get traffic and exposure. It's a very good profitable item on a per square foot basis," says Dwight Hurst, president of Bard Medjool Marketing, based in Claremont, Calif.

Available year-round, Bard Medjool's newest innovation is an 11-pound bulk box with a sneeze guard and tongs. In addition to recipe pads, advertising cards and POS materials, in-store demonstrations are especially effective with Medjool dates, which are one of the largest date varieties and are delectably sweet because of their higher moisture content, adds Hurst.
DRIED FRUIT CATEGORY & SUBCATEGORIES

 DOLLAR % CHANGE DOLLAR UNIT
CATEGORY SALES VS. YEAR AGO SHARE SALES

DRIED FRUIT $500,850,112 0.4% 100.0 226,741,040
DATES 25,663,916 -2.3 5.1 10,532,472
DRIED PLUMS 91,238,240 -4.8 18.2 37,136,644
GLAZED FRUIT 15,210,792 -8.4 3.0 4,835,802
OTHER DRIED FRUIT 164,538,032 9.7 32.9 73,986,184
RAISINS 204,199,104 -2.9 40.8 100,249,944

 % CHANGE
CATEGORY VS. YEAR AGO

DRIED FRUIT -0.9%
DATES -4.3
DRIED PLUMS -9.2
GLAZED FRUIT -9.1
OTHER DRIED FRUIT 11.5
RAISINS -4.8

Source: Information Resource Inc., 52 Weeks Ending June 16, 2002 Total
U.S. Food/Drug/Mass Ex Wal-Mart
COPYRIGHT 2002 MacFadden Communications Group LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:McLaughlin, Molly
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Words:1143
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