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    Dried-Fruit Forecast

    Consumers call for nutritious snacks with a pinch of indulgence and plenty of convenience.

    By Jennifer Strailey

    When it comes to snacking, as with most things in life, American consumers want it all. They crave nutritional benefits like fiber and antioxidants, but prefer them tempered by a bit of indulgence. They demand freshness and flavor, but in a convenient format.

    As dried fruit delivers all of this and more, the category continues to grow in sales and new product introductions.

    ?Dried fruit is in a great spot in terms of consumer trends,? observes Stephanie Harralson, senior product manager for Sunsweet Growers Inc., in Yuba City, Calif.

    She points to the recent Nielsen webinar, ?Insatiable Snackers: How to Take a Bite Out of the U.S. Snacking Demand,? which found that health attributes are critically important to consumers.

    Indeed, roughly one-third of respondents in The Nielsen Global Survey on Snacking, which was cited in the webinar, reported that they?re looking for beneficial ingredients from their snacks. Fiber was the most sought after, with 37 percent of respondents ranking it as a very important attribute in the snacks they consume.

    Protein (31 percent) and whole grains (29 percent) rounded out the top three most desirable attributes in snacks. Nielsen further found that 45 percent of global respondents ranked snacks that are ?all natural? as very important.

    ?People are looking for nutrition and sustenance from snacks,? notes Harralson. ?They are eating smaller meals in a more mindful way, and using snacks to do that.?

    But among U.S. snackers, there?s also a ?dichotomy in desires,? asserts James Russo, SVP of global consumer insights at Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen. In other words, consumers want healthy snacks like fruit, but they want their chocolate, too.

    ?Yes, health is increasingly important, but we also need to understand that there is the desire for both [health and indulgence] within the consumer landscape,? notes Russo, who led the Nielsen snacking webinar.

    Healthy Indulgence

    Sunsweet Growers? newest introduction, PlumSweets Greek Style, exemplifies this hot trend, offering bite-size pieces of fiber-rich Amaz!n Diced Prunes covered in a high-quality, dairy-based Greek yogurt. The product joins Sunsweet?s PlumSweets Dark Chocolate, which is also available in a 6-ounce resealable bag.

    ?These both go with the consumer trend of having permission to indulge,? Harralson says of the PlumSweets line, which was recently expanded in Kroger and Safeway stores, and is slated to land in Walmart next month. The line is also being promoted through a customized Valentine?s Day-themed Pandora radio station beginning this month.

    ?Healthier-for-you snack sales are definitely on the rise,? concurs Chad Hartman, director of marketing at Tropical Foods, a manufacturer, importer and distributor of bulk and packaged snacks and specialty foods in Charlotte, N.C. ?In fact, we have identified healthy snacking as the No. 1 eating trend that we will be addressing for 2015.?

    Dried fruit will be a key product group for Tropical Foods? healthy-snacking initiatives in 2015, says Hartman, who adds that the company?s dried-fruit category sales have shown consistent 10 percent-plus growth for the past three years.

    ?As snacking becomes more and more popular ? 91 percent of consumers admit to snacking daily ? and consumers look for healthier snacks, they are migrating to dried fruits,? observes Hartman. ?As a snack, dried fruits generally have no fat, low sodium and [are] a good source of dietary fiber.?

    Tropical Foods is targeting the healthfully indulgent trend with ReCharge, a line of three natural snack blends combining dried fruit, nuts and chocolate- and yogurt-covered raisins and cranberries. The snacks are enhanced with probiotics, omega-3, pomegranate seed oil and chia seeds, which add antioxidants and vitamin B6 to the mix.

    Freeze-dried Fruit Builds Fan Base

    While Americans are thinking more about the nutritional value of the snacks they consume, the Nielsen survey also found that chips are still the No. 1 snack in the United States.

    The good news for both health-conscious shoppers and the grocers that serve them is the growing number of suppliers that are bringing freeze-dried fruit snacks to market. With all of the crunch of a chip and the nutritional boost of fruit, these products are a win-win.

    According to Mark McHale, national sales director of Crispy Green, the Fairfield, N.J.-based maker of Crispy Fruit all-natural freeze-dried fruit snacks, ?The freeze-dried fruit segment is growing at double-digit growth levels and is the fastest-growing segment in the dried-fruit category.?

    Freeze-dried fruit contains no or minimal additives or preservatives, and retains most of the nutrients of fresh fruit, explains McHale. Crispy Green explains the freeze-drying process in a video that can be viewed from a link on its website.

    With the idea of creating a better-for-you snack option, Los Angeles-based Snack it Forward LLC ? in partnership with Sunkist Growers Inc. ? recently launched Sunkist Fruit 2.0, a line of freeze-dried snacks that?s fat-free, all natural and made from 100 percent real fruit. It?s available in four varieties: Fuji Apple slices, Banana slices, Strawberry slices and Red Seedless Grape slices.

    ?We call it fruit with freedom,? Snack it Forward CEO Nick Desai says, since the product can be consumed anywhere.

    Fresh Approach to Merchandising

    In 2015, Crispy Fruit is launching a promotional campaign to position its product as a fruit-to-go option. ?Our goal is to present Crispy Fruit as a complement to fresh fruit ? not necessarily an alternative ? but a great grab-and-go option for healthy, busy lifestyles, where fresh fruit may not be the best choice,? notes McHale.

    With this complementary relationship in mind, Crispy Fruit is urging grocers to merchandise freeze-dried fruit in the produce department. The company recently introduced a 96-unit display shipper to trigger impulse sales, and to provide a secondary location to promote the fruit-to-go concept.

    Hartman agrees that dried fruit belongs with fresh. ?By displaying dried pineapple with fresh pineapple and dried mango with fresh mango, I believe you will only increase the exposure and sales of both products,? he asserts.

    With grocers that merchandise dried fruit in the produce department in mind, Tropical Foods recently changed its packaging to cube-type tubs. ?We have cut back on the labeling and the package clutter,? Hartman says, ?so there is more product visibility.?

    ?People are looking for nutrition and sustenance from snacks.?
    ?Stephanie Harralson, Sunsweet Growers Inc.

    ?The freeze-dried fruit segment is growing at double-digit growth levels and is the fastest-growing segment in the dried-fruit category.?
    ?Mark McHale, Crispy Green

    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey

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