Plump it up! How to boost interest in dried fruits

They are traditional and dependable but dried fruits don’t exactly have the X-factor when it comes to 21st century bakery inclusions. What’s more, they’re losing ground to on-trend nuts, seeds and ancient grains.

Unless it’s Christmas or Easter, when the nation gorges on fruit-filled Christmas puds, mince pies and hot cross buns, Brits aren’t exactly clambering over themselves for a dose of dried fruit in their cake.

Not only do they suffer from a rather dated image as a result of their traditional ties, dried fruits are also being hit by the war on sugar.

“Seeds and nuts offer additional texture, flavour and protein benefits that consumers recognise, but dried fruits suffer from the negative publicity around the sugar debate,” explains Tanya Everest Ring, brand marketing manager at fruits, nuts and seeds supplier RM Curtis. “The distinction between naturally occurring sugars and processed sugars is not made, and the fibre and other health benefits gained from fruit is largely lost in the overall message ‘cut down on sugary foods’.”

That’s partially because these benefits – which include a wide range of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals as well as fibre – can be difficult to communicate on-pack.

“The mainstream information about dried fruit can be quite conflicting, with some diets claiming it to be a healthy snacking option, while others claim it is as unhealthy as sweets,” argues Tasneem Alonzo, joint managing director of EHL Ingredients. “In fact, dried fruits are high in natural sugars, can boost fibre and antioxidant intake, and are much better for the body than highly processed sweet snacks.”

As such, she says, they are increasingly being used in breads, biscuits, flapjacks, snack, granola and energy bars.

While the traditional ties are hard to shake, more exotic fruits are gaining traction in these markets.

“In recent years, we have seen a rise in demand for tropical and exotic dried fruits, such as dates, figs and apricots among the bakery sector, especially for European-style items such as panettones, stollens, bagels and Simnel cakes, as well gluten-free spiced loaves,” adds Alonzo.

Dried banana, berries, mango, peach, pear, apple and goji berries are also in demand, she notes.

This was evident from the raft of hot cross bun NPD hitting the market over the past couple of Easters. Aldi rolled out blueberry hot cross buns, Asda went with apple & cinnamon flavours, while Waitrose added orange, cranberry & jasmine ones to its portfolio.

“Inca berries have become more popular recently and offer a delicious and more contemporary option for a modern audience looking for new flavours,” adds Everest Ring.

However, she suggests working with the competition rather than going up against it. “Figs, dates, apples, and prunes all have good perceived health benefits and, combined with nuts and seeds, could be made into more ‘wholesome’ fruited breads.”

One example of this is Soreen’s latest piece of NPD – a Seeds & More malt loaf, featuring cranberries, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

There’s still plenty of life in dried fruits yet – they just need a bit of plumping.

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