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The U.S.-China Trade War Is Forcing Prunes to Rebrand as a Millennial Superfood

The product known as a natural laxative is now being marketed for its ability to build bones and muscle.

In early 2018, the U.S. was the leading exporter of prunes into China. The trade war ended that, and now producers are pushing an upbeat campaign to broaden their use domestically.

Exports into China last year fell by 24% compared with 2017, according to data from Rabobank, which has a focus on agriculture. Meanwhile, U.S. consumption remained flat. To counter the loss and broaden the product’s appeal, the California Prune Board is encouraging snack companies to use prune puree as a sugar alternative in processed foods.

The message to Millennial and Gen Z climbers, backpackers and skiers: This isn’t your father’s dried fruit. The product known best in the past as a natural laxative, is now being marketed for its ability to build bones and muscle, and make the heart stronger.

”Here’s an ingredient that’s been around forever, that’s higher in antioxidants than any other dried fruit on the planet,” said Kevin Webber, co-founder of Four Points, a company that makes prune-based energy bars advertised as non-GMO, gluten free, and high in protein.

The push comes as consumers — and particularly Millennials, with roughly $4 trillion in spending power — increasingly lean toward food unsullied by preservatives and sweeteners. Donn Zea, executive director of the Prune Board, says the product should now be considered as a good option for the performance athlete.

Go the Four Points website, and you’re met with a picture of healthy-looking mountain climbers. Their energy bars have been around since 2015, but are being pushed anew by a collaboration with the California Prune Board this year, driven by Chinese tariffs as high as 60%.

Even though tariffs might lift or lessen if trade talks between China and the U.S. are successful, getting market share back in China now that other producers like Chile and Europe have moved in will be an issue, Zea said.

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