Marketing agents of dried fruits and nuts are hoping to turn antioxidants and other nutritional bonuses into gold.

They say they’re well on their way.

“We’re really blessed,” said Dennis Balint, executive director of the California Walnut Board and chief executive officer of the California Walnut Commission, Folsom.

Balint pointed to research that found walnuts’ fatty acids, antioxidants and other compounds that bring nutritional value to consumers.

Marketers of other types of nuts are proclaiming similar messages.

"That’s our biggest focus — nutritional research and following up with nutritional promotion,” said Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno, Calif.-based Western Pistachio Association. “Our focus has been on cardiovascular health, diabetes, and antioxidants.”

“We did a pre-campaign survey in October 2009 and a follow-up in spring. Consumers are recognizing more readily the nutritional benefits of pistachios.”

Nutrient content has been driving almond sales, as well, said Matt Mariani, sales and marketing director at Winters, Calif.-based Mariani Nut Co.

“Certainly, the nutrition and the health benefits have been huge,” he said. “Heart health was the first, and we continued to learn more and more positive things about heart health, but we’ve also learned about positive effects on brain function and antioxidant content. That has really helped drive global interest and consumption.”

Heart health is a message of the Hazelnut Marketing Board, Aurora, Ore.

“We feel the hazelnut offers all the good things the rest of the tree nuts offer, which allows us to have our heart-healthy name,” said Polly Owen, the board’s manager.

“We’re high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Hazelnuts rate higher in proanthocyanidins. However, we know the whole antioxidant world is emerging.”

The Atlanta-based Georgia Pecan Commission participated with Fitness magazine in the ninth-annual Fitness Mind, Body, Spirit Games, Sept. 11 in New York’s Central Park, as a way to showcase the health attributes of pecans, said Duke Lane, the commission’s chairman.

“I think the New York event was very successful,” he said, adding that thousands of runners participated.

The good-for-you message isn’t limited to nuts — marketers of dried fruit are touting their products’ value, as well.

“I think a lot of people don’t know all the nutritional attributes when it comes to dried plums,” said Jeff McLemore, product manager for North America at Yuba City, Calif.-based Sunsweet Growers Inc.

“You’ve got a good source of fiber, antioxidants. Potassium levels are about 8%. When you combine all these attributes, you get a lot out of them”

It’s a strategy that melds with the needs of today’s consumer, McLemore said.

“People are seeking out functional foods,” he said. “You’re getting something out of what you eat. That’s definitely a benefit we can stand behind.”

Figs have plenty to contribute to the discussion, as well, said Linda Cain, vice president of marketing at Fresno-based Valley Fig Growers.

“We think figs have the strongest nutrition story as any common nut, fruit or vegetable,” she said. “We have more fiber than prunes, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas. We have everything, plus copper and magnesium.”

Versatility enhances the product’s nutritional worth, Cain said.