Prune producers are positioning the wrinkly dried fruit as a sweet, better-for-you snack rich in antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and protein, according to Bloomberg. They're pitching it to millennials who have a lot of buying power and prefer foods without preservatives or sweeteners.
Driving this marketing campaign is the fact that previously high prune exports to China have withered due to the trade war, so producers want to boost flat domestic consumption, Bloomberg said. In addition to being used in snacks, manufacturers also are being encouraged to try prune purée as a sugar substitute.
Kevin Webber, co-founder of Fourpoints, a Colorado startup making prune-based energy bars, told the business news service prunes are higher in antioxidants "than any other dried fruit on the planet." His company has partnered with the California Prune Board to broaden the appeal of California prunes "as a good option for the performance athlete."
Prunes, or dried plums, have a lot of nutritional benefits, so this marketing campaign immediately starts off strong. They contain more than 15 different vitamins and minerals, plus fiber and antioxidants. They are also known for relieving constipation because of their insoluble fiber content. However, prunes are high in calories and sugar compared to fresh plums, so the recommended maximum daily serving size is one-quarter to one-half cup.
The California Prune Board is marketing the dried fruit as a healthy option for any time of day — and one that is good for the gut, heart and bones. According to Executive Director Donn Zea, clinical trials suggest eating five or six prunes a day may support healthy bones.
"In addition to the nutritional benefits, market research has shown that the only thing holding people back from eating more prunes isn’t negative perceptions, but rather the simple need for more top-of-mind awareness," he said in a statement.
California has invested in premium growing processes and quality control, Zea added, along with commitments to sustainable agriculture and ethical labor practices. These could be valuable marketing assets for environmentally conscious millennials and others.
The Golden State produces nearly all of the U.S. crop, with the majority of bearing acreage located in the Sacramento Valley, according to researchers from the University of California-Davis. Typically, half the state's prunes were exported, but tree removal due to overproduction and competition from Chile and Argentina lowered that to about 40%. The state's crop has been further impacted by the trade war with China that limited and then recently suspended exports.
Prunes are adaptable to a range of foods and beverages including juices, energy and granola bars, baby food, sauces, marinades and bakery products. Prunes also are made into concentrates and powders, which could have a wide variety of CPG applications and allow for a cleaner and more natural label. Sunsweet, Ahold, Sunbest, Newman's Own, Sun-Maid, Gerber and Plum Organics are just a few of the companies making products with prunes.
The campaign to get U.S. consumers to eat more prunes may not be too difficult as long as the products in which they appear are tasty, not overpriced and deliver the goods as advertised. Since cauliflower and Brussels sprouts were able to make the leap from being overlooked to trendy must-haves, it may not take the wrinkly dried fruit that long to follow their lead.