The California Cling Peach Board has rolled out a new $500,000 domestic promotion program based on a new, “100% California Peaches” logo and aimed at regaining markets heavy with imports.

The board's agency, ECHO Communications of Emeryville, is also assembling a Web site and a press kit for newspaper and magazine food editors across the nation. Those features, keyed to the logo's link with the California mystique, are being woven into the “Buy American” campaign.

The cling industry continues to chafe under competition from imported peaches, and growers and canners have joined forces to find ways of dealing with the imports, some selling for half the price of California product.

Little smaller crop

The state's cling crop for 2001 was estimated at 525,000 tons, slightly less than the 2000 crop of 532,000 tons.

Last spring, cling board members learned that imports of subsidized Greek peaches alone shot up from 275,000 cases in 1999 to 1.2 million cases in 2000. South Africa, Chile, China, Spain and other sources posted increases of more than 250 percent. Meanwhile, cling exports to Mexico and Canada, California's chief markets, sank 62 percent.

Turlock grower Randy Fiorini, chairman since the board was established in 1996, charges European Union growers with dumping their excessive production into export markets.

In continuing appeals to government officials, Fiorini said the unfair competition threatens markets and profitability for the California industry, the source of practically all canned peaches produced in the U.S.

Carrying the industry's case to food editors and food service professionals across the land, he says, “I want to encourage everyone's support of ‘Buy American’ by insisting that their canned peaches are from the U.S.”

Mechanical harvest

On another front, the cost-conscious cling industry tested mechanical harvesting again in the 2001 season. In short, the practice is touchy, demanding precise adjustment and operation of equipment (including careful removal of twigs and other debris), optimum fruit maturity, and moderate temperatures, all followed up with timely processing.

The absence of these will cause more rapid degradation of mechanically harvested fruit. However, evaluators report that when the requirements are right-on-the-money, machine-picked fruit compares well with hand-picked.

Everything you'd want to know about almonds is in the 2001 Almond Almanac from the Almond Board of California released at the industry's conference in December.

Among the facts: dollar sales and units of products containing almonds rose by more than 16 percent in 2000 over the previous year. Twenty percent of newly introduced nut-containing products carry almonds, which now are the second only to peanuts in popularity.

Almonds seem to be earning more than their own keep, considering products containing them command a premium price over those that do not. In 2000 that premium ranged from 16 cents per pound for candy to more than $1 per pound for frozen novelties.

Inching toward the one-billion-pound crop levels that some say are not far off, California almond shipments were up 4 percent in 2000-2001 to a record 740 million pounds, and 71 percent of that was exported.

Export promotion advanced sales, notably to India, which rose from 23.3 million pounds in 1998-1999 to nearly twice as much, 46.2 million pounds, in 2000-2001.

In a November referendum, 96 percent of those voting, representing 99 percent of the voted volume, supported continuation of the California Pistachio Commission for another five years. Fifty-five percent of the eligible growers participated.

The commission, under authority of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is charged with marketing activities and production research, and has been in place 20 years serving the state's more than 500 growers farming about 100,000 acres of pistachios.


e-mail: dbryant@primediabusiness.com