Exports are the pivotal future for pistachios. In 1998, 37 percent of U.S. pistachio shipments were exported. In 2010, export shipments soared to 62 percent.

“I anticipate in seven years that 75 to 80 percent of the world’s pistachio supplies will come from the U.S.”

Zion shared positive forecasts for domestic and export growth. The domestic use of U.S. pistachios remains fairly stable ranging from 140 to 160 million pounds annually. The “wild card” in North America is Mexico where demand for U.S.-grown pistachios is increasing.

Asia has the largest potential buyers of U.S. pistachios including China and India – the major population growth countries in the world.

“Asia is the secret weapon for almost all nuts,” Zion said. “China is driving consumer demand for pistachios. China does not trust its own food supply. They seek out and buy U.S. products. The Chinese implicitly trust the quality of U.S.-grown food over their own.”

Europe is considered a mature pistachio market with the potential to become a 200-million pound pistachio consumer. Shipments have declined to Europe recently; most likely tied to difficult economic issues.

Judy Hirigoyen, APG’s global marketing director, agreed that the U.S. pistachio industry’s greatest opportunity for quick growth is international markets. The pistachio trade association has developed the “Power of Pistachios” campaign to focus on the wholesome and healthy attributes of pistachios.

“Our goal is to create demand ahead of the supply,” Hirigoyen said. “We have a huge number of non-bearing acres. If we sell out before the demand ends then that’s a good thing.”

Hirigoyen says the word “California” is a strong seller overseas due to the state’s reputation as a high-quality food producer. Arizona and New Mexico also have a positive international reputation.

This fall, APG will consolidate its five websites covering grower, consumer, and international audiences into a single site, www.americanpistachios.org, available in English, Mandarin, German, British English, Spanish, and Italian.

American Pistachio Growers is a new organization by name but with deep roots in the western pistachio industry. In July, the Fresno, Calif.-based Western Pistachio Association changed its name to American Pistachio Growers. In studying export potential overseas, surveys concluded the term “western” was viewed as western movies or cowboys.

“We decided the best name for the organization was the American Pistachio Growers,” said Richard Matoian, APG’s executive director. “This helps to identify where the product is coming from. Growers are front and center in the organization. ‘American’ and ‘growers’ help provide focus and direction for us.”

The APG is also a lobbying arm for the pistachio industry. Earlier this year APG successfully convinced the USDA to purchase up to 6 million pounds of pistachios for the USDA nutrition programs. Six million pounds equals about 4 percent of domestic sales.

cblake@farmpress.com