Breathing new life into California's fig industry

08/02/2007 02:00:00 AM

Representatives of the California Fig Advisory Board in Fresno have gained support
from California State University’s Agricultural Research Initiative to revitalize the state's
fig industry.

The goal of the project is expand market opportunities and update industry practices, says Richard Matoian, manager of the California Fig Advisory Boardo. The project is being conducted in partnership with the Viticulture and Enology Research Center at California State University, Fresno.

The first phase included improving the inspection data collection and dissemination system for dried figs by developing a customized software system, Matoian says.

“All dried figs are required to undergo mandatory inspection for grade and quality,” he says.

Under the new software system, once an inspection is complete, growers receive an e-mail indicating that it is available via a secured Web site. Once logged on, growers can access their individual inspection, thereby receiving results almost as they occur.

“The electronic inspection system is user friendly, and growers have adapted relatively easily to this electronic process,” Matoian says.

A second phase featured research regarding consumer attitudes about fresh and dried figs. Focus groups were formed to gain information on buying habits and trends that might enable
improved target marketing and promotion activities.

The results suggest there is a significant opportunity to increase purchase and consumption of fresh figs in the United States through effective marketing communications, Matoian says. The focus groups indicated they were receptive to purchasing figs more often, especially fresh figs.

A final phase of the research has focused on determining potential health benefits associated with fig consumption, specifically reducing heart disease, Matoian says.

Because coronary heart disease continues to be a major health problem and the leading cause of
death in the United States today, strategies for reducing risk have included lowering levels of total cholesterol or LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

The fig board commissioned Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center to study whether including dried figs in the diet would have a lowering effect on LDL cholesterol.

The first six-week results were positive and showed reductions of LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels by at least 10 percent in participants consuming the fig diet. In addition, many of the participants reported that they experienced an overall feeling of well being while on the fig
diet regimen.

The second six-week results, however, were inconclusive, leading project directors to suggest a third study, which is being conducted this year, Matoian says.



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