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Punching up the dried fruit market: as shoppers search for nutritious alternatives to traditional snacks, dried fruit producers are introducing convenient packaging and new flavors to attract consumers on the go.

From 1998 to 2003, the U.S. nut and dried fruit market grew by 47% to reach $3.2 billion in sales, according to a recent Mintel report. In the next five years, the category is expected to grow another 38%. What is behind the rapid growth spurt in the $441 million dried fruit category?

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The answers are convenience and healthiness. As consumers continue their search for nutritious alternatives to traditional snacks such as chips and sweets, dried fruit producers are introducing convenient packaging and new flavors to attract on-the-go consumers.

Just two years ago the California Dried Plum Board, formerly known as the California Prune Board, tried to reinvigorate the plum category and gain younger consumers by renaming the old, stodgy prune as the more upbeat and healthy dried plum. More than 563 million media impressions were generated from the ensuing public relations campaign.

So did the strategy work? Surveys suggest that many consumers recognize the dried plum name change. After the initial media launch of the new name, the dried plum category did see growth after four and a half years of steadily decreasing sales.

But that growth rate has since stabilized, says Patti Newsom, director of marketing for Mariani Packing Company Inc., based in Vacaville, Calif. "That's a hard ship to turn around," notes Newsom. "But the industry is not waiting to target shoppers until they are old and need these products."

The California Dried Plum Board, based in Sacramento, Calif., is promoting the internal health benefits of dried plums and trying to reach shoppers of all ages. Recent research backs up this approach. In June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a list of the top 20 food sources of antioxidants, which was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, and dried plums ranked 10th.

Dried plums and other dried fruits are full of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, iron and fiber, which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers. The snacks also count toward the recommended five servings a day of produce.

Traditional dried fruit product sales have remained flat or dipped slightly in comparison to specialty dried fruit, says Karla Stockli, vice president of marketing for the Fresno, Calif.-based California Raisin Marketing Board. The overall category has experienced a 2.9% decrease in sales and 4.4% decrease in unit sales, according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.

To counteract this trend, dried fruit producers are introducing portable, innovative snack packages with colorful graphics and resealable zipper locks for traditional dried fruit and other varieties. Healthy, portable, single-serve snacks appeal to every age group, especially when snacks seem to have become the unofficial fourth meal of the day for most consumers.

For example, Sunsweet Growers Inc., based in Yuba City, Calif., recently introduced the Smart Snack 8 Pack, a line of snack pouches of dried fruit in Cherry Essence Dried Plums and Dried Plums Pitted Prunes varieties, to provide a healthy, high-energy and convenient snack.

While dried plums and apricots generally appeal to older consumers, trail mixes are becoming popular among 25 to 35 year olds, says Newsom. Nontraditional offerings such as trail mixes, dried pineapple, mango, blueberry and cranberry are driving growth in the category.

Lakeville-Middleboro, Mass.-based Ocean Spray's Craisins Sweetened Dried Cranberries, which includes a line of Original Sweetened, Cherry Flavor Sweetened and Orange Flavor Sweetened Dried Cranberries, is the only brand to post a positive sales increase this year. According to IRI, the $29.7 million Craisins grew 7.9% in dollar sales and 5.8% in unit sales. Craisins can be eaten as a snack, added to salads and cereals or used to add flavor and flair to recipes.

To differentiate its dried plums and apricots, the Mariani Co. is adding vitamins and iron to its plums and removing sulfur dioxide for color preservation in dried apricots so they smell and taste like fresh apricots. "We're looking for ways to take traditional products and make them different," says Newsom.

In addition, the company is launching a complete fat-free and vitamin-fortified fruit roll product line with up to 10 flavors, a snack fruit line of six 1-ounce bags of dried fruit in a box, dried mango products and vanilla-and chocolate-covered raisins.

Sun-Maid Growers, based in Pleasanton, Calif., introduced yogurt and chocolate-covered raisins this year with great success. According to Rob Muller, director of marketing for Sun-Maid, the fastest growing segment for dried fruits are yogurt-and chocolate-coated raisins. "Consumers respond to innovative products and want healthy snacks," he says.

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In addition, Sun-Maid is introducing new snack packs of raisins. "Sun-Maid items are 100% natural," Muller says. "Our solid, core base user looks to our product for its natural wholesomeness. Consumers recognize the healthy simplicity of raisins. That's why we're seeing snack usage growing."

According to a Sun-Maid study, dried fruits are primarily impulse items. It is crucial for the products to get proper visibility. Many retailers are positioning dried fruit in the produce department and baking section, particularly during holiday seasons.

"We've been pretty aggressive in getting our products displayed in related areas, such as back-to-school and Halloween merchandising," says Muller. "Making dried fruit visible through featured displays will help the category. Sun-Maid also puts out pre-packed, display-ready shipper units and full-size palette displays for peak seasons, which saves retailers labor costs as well."

Most dried fruit products are located in the fresh produce department in freestanding displays or along the perimeter of the grocery store. Medjool dates are currently sold in the produce department in most stores year-round, says Dwight Hurst, president of the Bard Valley Medjool Date Growers Association, based in Claremont, Calif.

He notes that medjool dates sell best next to bananas, increasing sales as much as 100%. Medjool dates are offered in bulk and in clamshells.
A RAISIN IN THE SUN

Sales of specialty dried fruit by brand

 $ % change Unit % change
 sales vs. year ago sales vs. year ago

SUN-MAID RAISINS $107.12 -9.1% 49.64 -10.8%
SUNSWEET RAISINS 51.18 -8.0 19.55 -7.9
PRIVATE LABEL RAISINS 45.98 -2.8 25.39 -3.4
OCEAN SPRAY CRAISINS 29.72 7.9 13.84 5.8
DOLE RAISINS 13.94 -3.7 6.34 -6.2
PRIVATE LABEL DRIED PLUMS 11.04 -5.9 4.57 -7.1
SUN-MAID DRIED APRICOTS 9.44 -11.1 3.17 -13.2
SENECA DRIED APPLES 7.71 -23.7 5.30 -25.3
MARIANI DRIED MIXED FRUIT 6.10 -1.1 2.09 -3.8
SUN-MAID DRIED MIXED FRUIT 5.75 -15.3 2.24 -17.7

Sales of specialty dried fruit by vendor

 $ % change Unit % change
 sales vs. year ago sales vs. year ago

TOTAL SUN-MAID GROWERS $136.13 -6.9% 61.74 -7.5
TOTAL SUNSWEET GROWERS 68.99 -5.6 26.9 -4.5
CORPORATE BRANDS 64.91 -2.0 32.82 -3.0
OCEAN SPRAY CRANBERRIES INC. 29.72 7.9 13.84 5.8
TOTAL MARIANI PACKING CO. 28.86 8.7 10.46 3.1
TOTAL DOLE PACKAGED FOODS 21.71 -4.7 9.66 -6.6
SENECA FOODS CORP. 7.71 -23.7 5.30 -25.3
VALLEY FIG GROWERS 6.29 -4.9 2.20 -8.2
TOTAL DEL MONTE FOODS 6.11 5.3 3.03 7.2
TOTAL GREAT LAKES INTL.
 TRADE 3.30 8.7 1.23 -1.2

Source: Information Resources Inc.
Total U.S. food sales in millions for latest 52 weeks ending June 13,
2004.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Fresh
Author:Pellegrini, Megan Ladage
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:1260
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