Imports totalled 28,641t in the year to June 30, 2010, California Raisins marketing director Peter Meadows told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“The UK is the largest market on the planet for dried vine fruit. Last year 2009 the UK imported just under 116,000t of dried vine fruit [sultanas, raisins and currants].
“On average the UK consumer eats 2.1kg of dried vine fruit per year, and the market has been growing on average by 1.4% for the last three years."
Californian raisins are shipped from the US in bulk or as juice concentrate or paste, and are used in dairy products, cereals, confectionery, snacking, snacking mixes, sauces and condiments.
Raisins are being used in a growing number of products, Meadows explained:“The UK launches an average of 135 new products per year containing dried vine fruit. Last year 67 of these used California raisins, around 51%.”
Meadows said Californian raisins enjoyed 81% distribution throughout the UK food industry, with around 77% of sales to manufacturers or wholesalers and the rest sold to retailers. Specific sectors included major multiples, health food stores, wholesalers, cereal producers and the confectionery and bakery sectors, he added.
A source close to the Californian raisin industry said that major UK customers buying around 10,000t a year included Cadbury and Leeds-based Glisten (which the source said provides 90% of raisins for UK private-label chocolate products) as well as Lindt and Ritter Sport in Germany.
Meadows said improved marketing had boosted raisin sales, but that price and quality benefits were also key:
“More bakers and manufacturers are asking for California raisins, they work very well in confectionery – it’s a technical benefit where they’re not sticky and coat well with chocolate – and UK demand has been increasing annually.”
Turkish crop woe
The source added that prices for raisins had grown by around 25% to £1,100-£1,200/t since the 2007-8 growing season, when the Turkish crop was ruined by the worst drought in 100 years and Californian raisins filled an export gap.
Meadows added that a relatively weak dollar meant that Californian growers are able to offer the “lowest-cost dried vine fruit in the sector.” However, he said that geographical and climatical advantages meant that their raisins were the best.
All raisins come from Thompson seedless white grapes, he explained, but the Californian variety is only grown in the San Joaquin Valley, within a 50-mile radius of the city of Fresno.
Meadows said: “The landscape is extremely flat, and the vines are situated facing from east to west. The valley is particularly cloudless, meaning that the raisins receive a consistent three weeks of even sun.
“This means that you get a rich chocolaty taste, and a better texture and less colour inconsistency than, say, Turkish raisins.”