"This year will be the year when demand for healthier eating options will push demand for nuts, dried fruit and seeds to all time high levels," said RM Curtis’ trading director Mark Setterfield in its new report - Edible Nuts & Dried Fruit, Dec 2006-Jan 2007.

He explained: "Although increased demand may also push prices to higher levels, this trend is unlikely to prevent buyers in Western Europe and in the UK from, albeit begrudgingly, paying the increased levels, as their own demand increases."

Walnuts are now a relatively cheap option within the tree nut sector and so any price decline for 2007 seems extremely unlikely, he said. Meanwhile, cashew prices are starting to look attractive against pecans, almonds, hazels, pistachios and macadamias. "It may be a mistake to look at historical demand without considering this emerging rise in interest for natural and healthy eating options," said Setterfield. The price of hazels should remain firm into 2007, he added.

January was typically a quiet time in the sultana calendar, whereas there is an Easter demand for currants. "We would also expect an increase in demand for apricots from within the UK and mainland Europe as they feature more prevalently within food manufacture and snacking mixes," added Setterfield.

RM Curtis is an importer, trader and packer of nuts, dried fruit and other dried products, based in London and Essex