Despite record prices and 100 percent free tonnage, California raisin exports are increasing at a faster pace than domestic sales.

Raisin exports are up about 6 percent over last year. Domestic shipments are up about 4 percent. Exports have been averaging about 125,000 tons annually, roughly 35 percent of the total annual California raisin production.

Both are healthy percentages, particularly for export raisins considering the record prices growers are receiving. Last year producers received a record $1,700 per ton for raisins.

For many years, export raisins sold for less than domestic raisins. Each year raisin packers and growers evaluate the crop size and the potential market, setting a “free tonnage” or the percentage of raisins for which a grower can expect to receive the field price. Supplies over that free tonnage go into a reserve pool. Export raisins are sold out of that pool at a discount with federal market development assistance to increase consumption overseas.

This long-time practice is paying off based on reports given recently by overseas representatives of the Raisins Administrative Committee when several export raisins market agents reported on a wide array of activities to promote California raisins from London to Seoul.

Larry Blagg, senior vice president of marketing for the California Raisin Marketing Board, said the luncheon meeting at the Downtown Club, Fresno, Calif., was the first time the overseas agents presented a review of their activities before a large group of raisin packers and growers. Afterward, packers met with the representatives about individual marketing programs.

“We received a lot positive comments, and we will definitely do it again,” said Blagg.

Eighty percent of raisins marketed overseas are used as ingredients, mostly in baking items. “The ingredient market is an incredibly important market for us — even more so overseas,” Blagg said. It was obvious from audience reaction that many of the creative bakery items detailed by the agents were new to them.

Exports are not new for California raisins. Sixteen industry representatives recently went to Japan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the introduction of California raisins into that nation.

There is still significant potential for more raisins exports. Blagg cited China and India as two examples where raisin sales could increase. Only about 2,000 to 3,000 tons of California raisins are shipped into China, but with the growing middle class and a developing, sophisticated baking industry, Blagg sees a “strong potential” there. The same is true in India.

“The Almond Board has done a good job of marketing in India,” Blagg says, adding the raisin industry will hopefully move into that market.

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