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Driven Nuts.

Byline: Jennifer Strailey

Grocers expand nut and dried fruit offerings that appeal to health-minded consumers.

As consumers increasingly seek healthier snacking options, more and more are noshing on nuts and dried fruit. Suppliers are reporting double-digit growth, and grocers are appealing to health-minded customers by expanding their offerings in these better-for-you categories.

Earlier this year, Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi US revealed plans to roll out healthier checklanes at its nearly 1,500 locations by the end of 2016. Single-serve nuts and trail mixes, as well as dried fruits and granola bars, are replacing candy and chocolates.

Last month, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway introduced self-serve, pay-by-the-pound sections featuring a wide variety of nuts, dried fruit and trail mixes under the Truly Good Foods brand in three of its Miami stores.

The sections offer clear nutritional and ingredient labels, as well as instructions on how to shop them, says Chad Hartman, director of marketing for Tropical Foods, producer of the Truly Good Foods brand.

"For us, the category has grown double digits for as long as I remember," notes Hartman of the Charlotte, N.C.-based company's dried fruit and nut offerings.

Tropical Foods is set to expand upon those offerings with the launch of My Salad Bar, a line of four varieties of salad toppers, each of which includes dried fruit and nuts.

New Flavors, Old Favorites Reinvented

When it comes to top trends in dried fruit, the exotic and the everyday are both burgeoning.

"We are seeing some unique dried fruits hit the marketplace, such as kiwi, goji berries and star fruit," observes Hartman. "With that said, we are still seeing the best sales with traditional dried fruit such as apricots, raisins, figs, prunes and apples."

Brooke Golden, director of marketing for Navitas Naturals, in Novato, Calif., agrees. "The dried-fruit category is led by many of the usual suspects -- bananas, raisins and mango -- but what we get excited about at Navitas are goji berries," she enthuses. While just a few years ago, goji berries were little known, they now make up 13 percent of the category, Golden notes.

"Consumers are learning what we've known for years: They are powerful berries packed with fiber, iron and antioxidants," she says. "Just 1 ounce of goji berries packs more punch than 1 cup of strawberries."

Sunsweet Growers Inc. is on trend with its Sunsweet Pacific Tropicals line, which consists of Philippine Mango, Philippine Green Mango, Philippine Pineapple and Thai Coconut Chips.

The Yuba City, Calif.-based company is also giving younger consumers a reason to take a fresh look at prunes with its Sunsweet Ones Individually Wrapped Prunes, a time-honored dried fruit now available in modern portable packaging.

Senior Product Manager Stephanie Harralson notes, "Prunes have been showing strong growth, currently +9 percent versus a year ago (IRI 52 weeks ending Aug. 7, 2016), driven by Sunsweet's commitment to marketing the category through television advertising and digital media."

While on-the-go snacking is driving much of the demand for dried fruit, consumers are also using it as an ingredient in everything from salads to baked goods to oatmeal.

"Sales of dried fruit continue to grow, especially when merchandised near a complementary item," affirms Joe Tamble, VP of retail sales execution for Sun-Maid Growers of California.

To capture these different types of shoppers, Kingsburg, Calif.-based Sun-Maid offers shipper displays and works with retailers to cross-promote dried fruit with items like nuts, croutons, salads and fresh vegetables.

Yogurt Mania

"As part of the whole better-for-you snacking trend, the subcategory of yogurt raisins continues to do really well," says Tamble.

While the traditional California raisin remains the company's No. 1 seller, Sun-Maid Caramel Sea Salt Yogurt Raisins, available in a 5-ounce pouch and a 6-pack of 1-ounce boxes, are gaining traction.

"The latest 52 weeks of data from IRI shows the entire dried fruit category is up over 4 percent, with some subcategories -- like yogurt raisins -- up even higher to an 11 percent increase from a year ago," observes Tamble.

Cherries on Top

Consumer demand for new flavor sensations like sweet-tart is helping to drive sales of Montmorency tart cherries.

The Dewitt, Mich.-based Cherry Marketing Institute reports that Montmorency tart cherries have experienced an increase in demand in recent years. Since 2003, gross tart-cherry sales have risen nearly 25 percent.

"Trend experts say tart flavors are on the rise due to consumers' changing palate that prefers a less-sweet taste," asserts Jeff Manning, CMO for the institute. "There's been a dramatic shift in consumer flavor preferences to more stimulating flavors."

"We're experiencing double-digit growth on both our Montmorency tart cherries [and] our dried blueberries," notes Mila Savella, of Stoneridge Orchards. The orchards' sales of Cherries Dipped in Dark Chocolate and Cherries Dipped in Greek Yogurt are also on the rise.

This month, the Royal City, Wash.-based company launched a brick pack featuring six 0.75-ounce packs of Montmorency tart cherries.

"Our main focus is providing healthier snack options that are clean and good," says Savella. Stoneridge also offers an organic line, and all of its products are Non-GMO Project Verified.

Publix has recently expanded its Stoneridge dried fruit offerings from 10 to 12 SKUs. The Lake-land, Fla.-based supermarket chain is also increasing the exposure of Stoneridge's dark chocolate-enrobed Montmorency cherries and blueberries with additional placement in its dried-fruit sections. The products will also continue to be sold through the chain's produce departments.

Nutty Snacking

As consumers become more aware of the health benefits of nuts, they're making more frequent purchases, and they're also looking for new taste experiences.

"Consumers are especially showing interest in unique flavor profiles and the additions of spices," says Tropical Foods' Hartman. "Sweet and savory have been coming on strong over the past couple years, along with sweet and spicy."

Navitas Naturals expanded its product portfolio this past year with the launch of a Superfood+ snack line of sweet-and-savory treats.

"People seek adventure in their foods," asserts Golden. "Our Superfood+ line of sweet-and-savory seeds and nuts in flavors like the popular Turmeric Tamari Almonds speak to the variety of flavors consumers crave."

Potential Pistachio Shortage

According to an August 2016 report from the USDA, the global production of pistachios for 2015--16 is estimated to plunge 94,800 tons from the previous year, and U.S. production is down nearly half from 2015. The USDA cited weather and drought as the primary culprits for the decline.

Does this spell a shortage of the popular green nut? "While we did experience a significant shortfall during the 2015 harvest, Mother Nature made up for it this year," says Mark T. Carmel, associate director, corporate communications for The Wonderful Co., the Los Angeles-based supplier of Wonderful Pistachios.

"The 2016 harvest is actually shaping up to be the biggest in history," he continues. This record-breaking yield in the U.S. can at least in part be attributed to this year's winter and rainy seasons, giving us just the right number of chilly days, followed by rainy days."

According to the company, Wonderful Pistachios are the top-selling tree nut brand in the country, based on market share. "Our processing plants are operating 24 hours a day to meet the demand," Carmel assures.

"The 2016 [pistachio] harvest is actually shaping up to be the biggest in history."

--Mark T. Carmel, The Wonderful Co.

A Fresh Date with Destiny

Bard Valley Date Growers, in Yuma, Ariz., is asking retailers to rethink the date category when it comes to in-store positioning. For starters, according to Director of Marketing Erin Hanagan-Muths, Medjool dates aren't a dried fruit. "Natural Delights Medjool Dates are an energy-packed, fresh whole fruit," she notes.

As such, Bard Valley wants to see its Natural Delights Medjool Dates positioned with other on-the-go whole fresh items like bananas and apples.

The company offers a guide to merchandising, as well as a shelf display shipper program to help retailers optimize their in-store positioning of Natural Delights for maximum profitability.

To further drive awareness, last month the company launched a new website featuring consumer-oriented life-style video content, new recipes, and imagery designed to forge an emotional connection with a youthful, wellness-oriented consumer.

"Health-minded consumers and Millennial shoppers are racing towards healthy, on-the-go snacking options to help them power through their day," asserts Hanagan-Muths. "Not only are these segments looking for high-quality products to sustain their energy levels, they are seeking foods that have minimal ingredients, are GMO-free, contain no artificial flavors or colors, and are natural."
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Author:Strailey, Jennifer
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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