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Fruitful times for dried products.

For many of the same reasons that made it one of the first preservation methods, drying still works well in today's eating patterns. Portability, taste, and nutrition make dried fruits as popular in the era of travel-by-car as they did in the days of travel-by-camel.

Dried fruits are also an essential element in the ever-increasing propensity for consumers to "eat on the run." "There are fewer formal, sit-down meals today," says Rob Muller, product manager for Del Monte, a major packer-processor of dried fruit. And there's a lot more meal substitution, he adds. The latter trend sees more an more Americans passing up meat and potatoes in favor of handfuls of raisins, apricots and trail mix blends at strategic points throughout the day.

The raisin is one dried fruit that has been successfully merchandised as a snack item in recent years. Now it is being put through some promotional paces as an "added attraction" in cooking.

Following on the trend toward more spontaneity in the kitchen, raisins will be touted as a nutritious, easy and delicious way to enliven all kinds of dishes, says Art Massa of the California Raisin Advisory Board. Television ads for 1984 will show showers of raisins gently falling onto a myriad of concoctions, from salads to desserts.

Massa says ideally he'd love to see a canister of raisins set out on every kitchen counter, like flour, coffee, or tea. "These days there's a lot more entertaining going on in the kitchen," Massa says, and he thinks raisins, left in plain sight, would spur a lot more consumer usage. Raisins will also tie-in with the Kraft Salad Days promotion in 1984 and 1985.

Bulk merchandising is also a growing trend for raisins and dried fruit in general. Many people like to customize their own trail mixes and blends in quantities convenient to their needs, and at a lower cost than the prepacked varieties.

Massa says a good supply of raisins is expected from the 1984 harvest and he predicts retailers and consumers should see favorable raisin prices beginning this fall. The raisin industry is also trying to get fast food operators to put raisins into salad bars and desserts to help increase consumer awareness of this dried fruit favorite.

Packaging pluses for dried fruit this year include quantity-packs of snack-size boxes and Del Monte's zip-open box top, which eliminates the need to shred the whole box to get to the contents.

Older shoppers, who are big purchasers of dried fruit, should find this new convenience particularly appealing.

Prunes, the Cyrano de Bergerac of the dried fruit category, will receive a promotional push from television ads in top markets for 1984. Prunes are being positioned by the industry as a snack item with high potassium contents, which should help them win converts from the health-oriented young marketing segment.

Rob Muller of Del Monte feels prunes need to be promoted more as "dried plums." "Many consumers don't know prunes start out as plums," he says. Taking that approach may aid in reversing prunes' negative image. A growing grain

In the dried vegetable category, rice continues to enjoy modest growth due to its appeal as a nutritious, economical and light side dish. Rice's popularity is also being fed by consumer interest in foreign cuisines such as Mexican, Oriental, Vietnamese and Thai. Kristen O'Brien, director of communication for the Rice Council of America, notes that "with the exception of the United States, most countries' cuisines feature rice and rice dishes." O'Brien sees rice being used in significant quantities in frozen foods, especially in reduced-calorie entrees where its lightness and relatively low-calorie image is a plus.

Brown rice has been holding its own, primarily because of the "fitness craze," and wild rice is expected to do the same, due to its popularity with gourmet cooking enthusiasts, especially in the East.

Flavored rice mixes continue to be popular. Golden Grain's Rice-a-Roni brand will once again be backed with a TV advertising campaign, plus print ads in women's publications. Although "back-to-basics" seems to be the theme of the 1980s, convenience is still a major factor in ringing up supermarket sales. "We may want to eat healthy, but we still want to eat fast," says O'Brien, explaining the enduring popularity of flavored rices.

Dried beans, peas and lentils may be tirelessly promoted in newspaper food pages and by nutrition experts, but these inexpensive, wholesome commodities just can't seem to find their stride in the race for fitness.

Dean Broadhead, vice president of sales and marketing for N.K. Hurst, a dried bean packer, points out that in Great Britain consumers annually consume 14 pounds of dried beans per person, twice as much as in the U.S. "They freeze and keep well," Broadhead says about the product, but nevertheless dried beans just don't catch on.

Until the 1984 harvest, large limas will be in short supply, he says, but there will be plenty of other dried beans around to make up for them. But possibly it is because of poor quality beans--those with cracked skins that yield mushy not firm results--that beans have kept their low image. Or, maybe, as a nation we just don't like beans.

There is some new product news in the instant potato category with several major manufacturers making introductions. Betty Crocker recently debuted a chicken and herb flavored instant potato mix and the R.T. French Co. is doing very well with its new Creamy Stroganoff and Creamy Italian Potatoes. In addition, R.T. French has added a new mashed item, Idaho Spuds, potato flakes available in 24-serving and 40-serving sizes. Idaho Spuds will be backed by TV and print ads. Larry Labrum, R.T. French's product manager, says the current trend toward pasta and rice side dishes is giving instant potatoes some stiff competition, but convenience and taste are still important factors in the resilience of this subcategory.
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Title Annotation:dried fruits and vegetables
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Previous Article:Healthy sales prove 'thin' is still in.
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