By TIM HEARDEN
RED BLUFF, Calif. -- The prune industry is responding to its recent decline in California by modifying its marketing strategy.
Rather than focus on developing new markets, the California Dried Plum Board is promoting the value of prunes to targeted groups, most notably Millennials age 18 to 35.
With the slogan, "The Whole Package," the board is touting the natural health benefits of prunes in an age when people are drifting away from diet supplements and back to whole foods, said Donn Zea, the board's executive director.
"They're really looking for natural ingredients from a natural source," Zea said.
The board is hitting social media hard to tap into the younger generation. Last fall, former Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin held a "Twitter party" to discuss the nutritional value of prunes, which she has promoted for several years.
"It actually led Twitter in the United States for the hour," Zea said.
The efforts come as bearing acres for plums grown for prunes in the Golden State dipped to just above 50,000 this season, Zea said. There were 67,000 bearing acres in 2005, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Growers produced about 120,000 tons this season, down 12 percent from the 137,000 tons produced in the 2011 harvest.
California produces nearly all of the nation's prunes and 70 percent of the world's supply, but growers have contended with a global glut of prunes in recent years because of overproduction in South America.
By contrast, nut growers have found it challenging to meet a global spike in demand -- a trend that's improved their profitability and prompted farmers to plant more acres. Some of those new acres used to be in prunes.
Zea said prunes are a product "in some ways ahead of its time." He noted that it took time and aggressive marketing for people to think of nuts as healthful, and the same must be done for prunes.
"I personally believe things are going to get better," Zea said.
California Dried Plum Board: http://www.californiadriedplums.org/