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American Pistachio Growers expecting record harvest of around 550 million pounds

With the 2012 harvest nearing completion, pistachio growers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada are expecting a record crop of around 550 million pounds, but that number is down from a pre-harvest estimate of around 600,000 pounds, according to Richard Matoian, executive director of the 450-member association.

There are currently about 250,000 acres of pistachios planted in the four states (98 percent of that in California), and currently only 145,000 acres are producing crops. Based on industry data, the current plantings are expected to boost the crop size to 800 million pounds by 2016, double what it was in 2009.

Pistachios are alternate bearing, and this year is an on-year, but “as we got closer to harvest, it looked like we weren’t going to be reaching the 600 million” that was 06-HoliDriedFruitNut--AmPisRichard Matoianprojected earlier in the year,” Mr. Matoian said. “An official report that came out” showing the volume harvested through Oct. 10 put volume to date at 535 million pounds, “and with what is left to be harvested, everyone believes there is going to be somewhere between 540 to maybe 550 million pounds harvested.”

Even if the crop did come in at 600 million pounds, he said, “I think we are in a situation here where demand exceeds supply, which is a good place to be if you are a grower, so wholesale prices are high and prices to the growers are healthy.” With strong demand both domestically and abroad, “we are in a good situation right now for growers getting good returns.”

Crop quality is good, he said, but “we don’t have, overall, as large of sizes as we did the previous couple of years.”

Some 60 percent of the total U.S. pistachio volume is exported, “primarily to China and also to the European Union,” Mr. Matoian said. Therefore, the association is spending much of its “time, attention and dollars on the overseas markets. We have a number of activities focused there.”

The group continues “to utilize agencies in a number of countries to help promote the health and nutrition message of our product and make sure the consumers are focused on healthy snacking,” he said. “When you need to snack on something, you can make a good choice and make pistachios a part of that good choice.” In addition, pistachios can be used “in various recipe items.”

American Pistachio Growers provides generic display bins to retailers in several countries in Europe who buy U.S. pistachios. “Many of our branded assets are printed on these display bins,” Mr. Matoian said.

“On the domestic level, we are continuing to do sponsorships of the U.S.A. men’s and women’s water polo teams,” he said. The women’s team won the gold medal at the recent London Olympics. “We have been using members of both of these teams as brand ambassadors” at various events and functions. Members of the women’s team, in particular, having won the gold, “certainly do attract a crowd no matter where they go.”

The association also continues its sponsorship of the Miss California Pageant, “tying in with Miss California on the beauty and fitness side of eating pistachios,” Mr. Matoian said.

When working with the water polo athletes, the focus is on “the athletic and muscle recovery side,” he said.

The total marketing campaign, for global and export programs, has a budget of $10.5 million, he said.

The association is involved in sponsoring various nutrition and health studies. “The studies that we have done in the recent past have focused on [benefits to] cardiovascular health” and on lowering of cholesterol by consuming pistachios, Mr. Matoian said. New studies are now in progress dealing with the benefits of pistachios in muscle recovery after a workout.

Pistachios are not alone in the nut category in terms of experiencing growing global demand. “All tree nuts, whether it be almonds or walnuts or pistachios all seem to be doing well,” Mr. Matoian said. “Consumers are focused on our commodities, and around the world we are having increased sales. It is a good place to be right now in the world of tree nuts.”