UK consumers are fast becoming fruit and nutcases as far as snacking is concerned, but a good proportion of the products is also finding its way into kitchens for cooking purposes.

Sales of snacking and baking fruits are up 14% and 5% year-on-year respectively, and together account for more than 60% of home baking, according to TNS.

"Changing consumer lifestyles are a major factor in the rapid growth of snacking fruits within home baking," says David Smith, marketing director of market leader Whitworths, which has broadened its portfolio with an organic range and products designed for eating on the move or cooking. "Younger consumers are turning the image of old-fashioned dried fruit on its head, using popular fruits such as apricots, prunes, raisins and sultanas in new and innovative ways."

Sun-Maid, brand leader in raisins, also regards home baking as an important target. "We see strong sales of our 500g canister," says marketing manager Shirley Griffiths. "This stay-fresh pack is very convenient for baking and cooking, as well as snacking."

Griffiths adds that although traditional baking at home has suffered from the combined battery of busy lifestyles, declining cooking skills and the plethora of convenience foods, there is a renewed interest in food.

"It's a leisure pursuit and a lifestyle hobby," she says. "This is not just a fad that is going to go away very quickly. Dried fruit is very versatile and the natural fit as a low-fat/high-fibre product that is naturally sweet, means that it remains an important ingredient within the home baking sector."

Consumers' search for healthier options has prompted new entrants to try their luck, with cranberry brand Ocean Spray leading the charge. It has brought out dried cranberries on their own and in combinations with either mixed nuts and seeds, raisins or tropical fruits for baking.

Jamie Robinson, commercial director, international services (UK), says: "Consumers are seeking healthier options for home baking as well as in other sectors."

He says cranberries' versatility and health credentials make them an ideal ingredient for breads, cakes, cookies and puddings.

"Despite trends towards healthier eating, many people still think of dried fruit and nuts as being quite worthy and dull", says Robinson. "We see consumers adding this superfruit to everyday foods such as cereals, yoghurts and salads.

"Dried cranberries are a well-established ingredient in the US market and are especially popular on big baking occasions, such as Christmas, as well as in everyday snacking and salads. We hope to emulate this success in the UK." n