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Opting for dried fruits over snacks high in sugar, salt, and fat can be a viable means to meet WHO’s daily fruit intake recommendations and promote sustainable dietary habits. Despite this, the consumption of dried fruits, particularly among the youth, falls short compared to unhealthy snacks. Addressing this gap requires understanding the millennial infrastructure to cultivate a preference for dried fruits. Recent trends suggest a growing inclination toward dried fruits among millennials, influenced by Nophilia attitudes and the product’s emotional appeal. Notably, wealthier Italian millennials with higher education levels exhibit a willingness to invest in dried fruits. These findings carry implications for theory, management, and policy, providing insights for marketers, healthcare professionals, and government initiatives seeking effective strategies to promote healthier dietary choices.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a daily intake of 500 grams of fresh fruits and vegetables is recommended to prevent non-communicable diseases. This daily consumption provides essential fiber and micronutrients for optimal health. However, global fruit and vegetable consumption falls below WHO recommendations. In Australia, only 7% of adults meet the guidelines, and in the United States, just two out of ten adults reach the daily target. In the European Union, only one in five individuals meets WHO recommendations, especially among young adults, with only 10% of US youth meeting WHO fruit guidelines and 8% meeting vegetable guidelines in the UK.

Low fruit and vegetable intake among young people is coupled with a rise in the consumption of unhealthy foods, posing a significant risk for chronic diseases and obesity. Unhealthy snacks, high in saturated fat, salt, and refined sugar, have seen a global increase. Recent data suggests 70% of British consumers favor salty chips, followed by cookies (60%) and chocolates (50%). Millennials, being a prime consumer market, with 50% of them consuming an average of four snacks daily, contribute significantly to this trend. As this generation often opts for on-the-go products due to their active lifestyle, efforts from governments, researchers, and healthcare professionals should prioritize encouraging the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables over unhealthy snacks. Numerous studies indicate that enhancing access to fruits and vegetables can effectively increase daily intake among young people.

Highlighting an intriguing tool for enhancing fruit consumption, dried fruits emerge as a promising solution achieved by extracting water from fresh fruits through sun-drying or various processing techniques, thereby prolonging shelf life. These products maintain a nutrient profile similar to their fresh counterparts but offer added convenience, ease of storage, transport, and consumption, allowing individuals to enjoy fruits year-round. Despite their numerous positive attributes aligning with the increasing demand for healthy and convenient products, the consumption of dried fruits remains below the recommended intake, averaging only 40 grams per day.

Recent data indicates that per capita consumption of dried fruits in the United States is a mere 3 grams per day, while in the UK, the average daily intake is slightly higher at 4 grams, varying from 6 grams among individuals over 60 years old to only 2 grams among younger people (up to 18). This underscores the potential for greater awareness and promotion of dried fruits as a practical and nutritious option for individuals of all age groups.

The current study serves a dual purpose. Initially, it aims to ascertain whether millennials exhibit a preference for dried fruits over unhealthy snacks, a dimension that remains unclear to date. Subsequently, the study delves into understanding how specific consumption habits, perceived values (health, comfort, and emotions), and the influence of Nophilia may shape this preference. Existing literature suggests that health, convenience, and emotional attributes significantly impact snack choices, yet only isolated studies have explored each of these factors individually. By examining these elements collectively, this study seeks to provide a comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing millennials’ choices between dried fruits and unhealthy snacks.

Numerous studies highlight that dried fruits, devoid of excess sugar prior to the drying process, can emerge as healthier snacks compared to their counterparts. These products boast richness in nutrients, bioactive compounds, and antioxidants, potentially mitigating the risk of obesity, metabolic heart disease, and other non-communicable diseases among young consumers. Modern drying techniques effectively retain multiple components from fresh fruits, ensuring health benefits and contributing to enhanced appetite control.

Drying, fundamentally a process converting a solid or semi-solid substance into a solid with reduced moisture content, involves evaporating liquid by applying heat to whole fruits, halves, cuts, pieces, spears, or cubes. Dried fruits offer extended shelf life and reduced weight compared to fresh counterparts, thereby prolonging storage duration and cutting packaging costs. Moreover, the drying process mitigates microbial damage, curbing the growth of fungi and molds on the products. Converting fruits in the market into dry products not only minimizes food waste but also provides a derived product with extended shelf life.

Sun drying, as the oldest technique, yields products with commendable quality features, albeit susceptible to environmental pollution and exhibiting a slow process. Furthermore, local weather conditions exert a notable influence on drying performance. In contemporary settings, a spectrum of single or compound drying methods has emerged, encompassing tray dryers, conductivity (contact or indirect dryers), radiation, microwave, and radio frequency electromagnetic methods. These diverse drying approaches significantly impact the composition and functional characteristics of the fruit, leading to modifications in color, taste, and texture. The outcome is a new generation of products with distinct properties.

The predominant production of dried fruits is commonly associated with raisins, followed by tablecloths, plums, apricots, blueberries, and figs. However, there is a rising demand for dried tropical fruits in Europe driven by the trend towards healthy snacks and the increasing popularity of exotic flavors. Dried tropical fruits are sourced from tropical regions or, uniquely in Italy, from fruits such as mangoes, loquats, and papayas. Italian fruits stand out as they are often harvested “tree on the tree” and frequently sourced from organic supply chains. Notably, the European market imposes restrictions on harmful pollutants, including residual pesticides and mycotoxins, ensuring a commitment to quality and safety standards.

Indeed, there is a direct correlation between familiarity with a product and consumers’ willingness to pay (WTP) for dried fruits. As consumers become more acquainted with the product and gain awareness of its benefits, their confidence in and understanding of the value proposition increases. This underscores the significant impact of product knowledge and prior experiences on influencing consumers’ choices and preferences.

The label serves as a tool to mitigate consumer confusion and introduce healthy products into dietary behaviors. When consumers disregard this label, they often overlook potential health benefits mentioned on the packaging. Interestingly, our findings reveal that respondents’ willingness to pay (WTP) for dried fruits is not significantly influenced by high scores on the perceived health value (PHV) scale. This suggests that health aspects may not play a crucial role in the decision-making process for millennials when choosing dried fruits. This aligns with existing literature on snack preferences, indicating that younger individuals often prioritize taste and attractiveness over health considerations. Consumer choices regarding dried fruits seem to be more influenced by factors such as taste, texture, and color, while health-related aspects may not strongly impact their preferences. Notably, the intention to purchase dried fruits is shaped by perceived hygiene aspects, highlighting that consumers’ preferences may not inherently lean towards healthier options, in contrast to fresh fruits.

The alignment with existing literature on snack consumption highlights that practical and emotional values are pivotal factors influencing the choices of the youngest consumers. Given that snacks are predominantly consumed outside main meals, ease of consumption and availability are key considerations. Furthermore, young individuals seek emotional experiences during social interactions with friends and peers, fulfilling their socialization needs. This resonates with studies indicating that millennials tend to consume more when engaged in social situations. Despite dried fruits currently constituting a relatively new and niche market share among millennials, they exhibit significant growth potential. As millennials increasingly recognize dried fruits as snacks, incorporating them into daily consumption and social sharing, the products contribute to heightened consumer satisfaction. Notably, emotional considerations do not significantly impact the choice of dried fruits in this context.

The econometric model reveals that another influential factor impacting respondents’ willingness to pay (WTP) for dried fruits is their diet nophilia, reflecting a desire for the taste of something new. While there is a dearth of studies on nophiliac traits in the literature on dried fruit consumers, our findings underscore that a high nophilia score is a significant determinant of consumers’ acceptance of a new product, even when it comes with a higher price. Notably, neo-nephobia, reflecting a reluctance towards new foods, can act as a barrier to the successful launch of new products in the market. This reluctance stems from the intimate connection between food consumption and the consumer, as individuals carefully evaluate what they eat, particularly when faced with a new or unfamiliar food item.

Social and demographic variables reveal that consumers with higher education levels and income display a greater willingness to pay higher premiums for dried fruits, reflecting a positive impact on their consumption. Unlike some studies where women tend to pay more attention to dried fruits, our findings indicate that gender does not significantly affect the willingness to pay (WTP) among respondents. This suggests that factors such as education and income have a more pronounced influence on the valuation of dried fruits in this context.

The results of this study carry theoretical, managerial, and policy implications. Theoretically, this research contributes to the literature on dried fruit consumption as a snack, shedding light on the factors influencing the dietary choices of millennials. Enhancing awareness of millennial behavior is crucial for improving dried fruit consumption, considering they are not only a primary target market for snack consumption but also play a pivotal role in preventing non-communicable diseases. These findings offer valuable insights for practitioners in marketing and management, aiding in the development of strategies that resonate with millennial preferences. Moreover, policymakers can leverage this understanding to formulate initiatives promoting healthier dietary habits, particularly among the younger demographic, for long-term public health benefits.

From a managerial perspective, our findings provide valuable insights for companies aiming to develop effective marketing strategies tailored to the unique needs of the millennial market. To enhance the consumption of dried fruits, businesses should underscore the emotional and comfort aspects, as well as highlight the drying process and health benefits through improved labeling to mitigate confusion among millennials. Implementing specific advertising campaigns can contribute to enhancing consumer knowledge regarding various aspects of dried fruits. Collaboration with government policies or programs can be instrumental in achieving this goal. This concerted effort has the potential to not only boost fruit consumption but also serve as a significant tool in meeting the daily recommendations of fruit and vegetable intake, especially among young people, as advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO).