An uptick expected in worldwide consumer spending as the global financial picture improves will likely open the doors for increased sales of U.S. commodities including California almonds.

Ira Kalish, global economics director at Deloitte Research, paints an optimistic long-term global economic forecast which should place grins on farmers’ faces. Deloitte Research is a New York City-based firm which identifies and analyzes major issues facing businesses today.

Kalish spoke during the ‘Selling a 2-billion-pound crop” seminar at the 2011 Almond Industry Conference in Modesto, Calif., in December.

“In the short term, we’re looking at a recession in Europe and a temporary slowdown in China and India and other emerging global markets due to the global economy,” Kalish said.

Over the long term, Kalish expects moderate economic growth in Western Europe. China will grow slightly slower, but its move to a more consumer-driven economy will result in stronger consumer spending growth.

This is good news for Western agriculture. The expansion of California nut acreage and production continues to set records. The California almond industry will likely surpass the 2-billion-pound production plateau, an industry record, this year barring significant weather events.

The U.S. is the top California almond customer followed by China, Spain, Germany, and India, respectively. The U.S. purchased nearly 500 million pounds of almonds in 2010/2011. China imported 168 million pounds.

As the worldwide economy improves, Kalish predicts China and other emerging markets including India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam will buy more consumer goods. This is due to a large number of citizens earning more income and climbing from the poverty bracket to the middle class.

This provides consumers increased opportunities to purchase consumer goods and services including farm products. Moving to the middle class means food diets usually shift from mostly grain to more protein including meat and fish.

In addition, the middle class tends to eat more meals outside the home and welcomes more diversity in their diet.

“This greater openness for the middle class and the affluent opens them to more diversity for foods which opens an opportunity for you (the almond industry),” Kalish said. “It depends on how you market the product and the ability of almonds to be integrated into a more diverse diet.”

Marketing is among the strengths of Western agriculture organizations. Now with 7 billion-plus people on Earth, more people need more food which further opens the door for Western-grown crops. The long-term demand for Western farm products is strong and commodity prices are expected to rise.

Prime foreign market

Kalish says the global rebound from financial woes will be slow but he remains optimistic. China’s economic growth has slowed from 10 percent to 11 percent annually to 8 percent to 9 percent. India’s 1-billion population is largely young in age and younger consumers tend to consume more.

Brazil is also experiencing a large shift from the poor to middle class — the same for Indonesia and Vietnam. Vietnam’s communist government wants to modernize its retail system including a shift to a market-oriented economy.

“Vietnam is sometimes called the next China — 90 million people, very poor but changing rapidly,” Kalish said. “Vietnam is similar to where China was 20 years ago.”

Turkey is another prime market for more California almond sales. Turkey has 80-plus million residents with a per capita income twice that of China.

“Turkey is truly a market where almond consumption could be very strong because it (the almond) is a very important part of the Middle East cuisine,” Kalish said.

Domestic prospects for almond sales are also good. Companies including the Walt Disney Company are choosing healthier food items for its restaurant menus.

Bob Iger, chief executive office of the Walt Disney Company in 2006, said, “Our support for the well-being of children and families is deeply rooted in Disney’s history and manifests itself in many ways throughout our businesses.”

Disney chef John Davis told the almond industry crowd about the company’s long-term commitment to healthier food choices. The Disney Company serves more than 70 million meals annually at its parks and resorts.

Clark, who has 28 years with Disney, shared a 2005 quote in the New England Journal of Medicine which read, “This is the first generation of children who will live shorter lives than their parents.”

Clark is referring in part to obesity as a growing problem in U.S. children and adults. Disney wants to educate the young and young at heart about healthier food choices. To develop a healthier food plan, Disney hired dieticians and consulted with USDA.

In 2010, Disney launched its ‘Magic of Health Living’ initiative to improve health through “Disney’s power of entertainment and creativity.” For example, the www.disney.com/healthyliving website includes a plethora of healthy food suggestions, including ideas to help parents pack healthier school lunches.

“We know people will come in (to Disney parks) and want their french fries,” said Clark, chef de cuisine at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. “If they come in for a cheeseburger, we ask if they would like apples, carrots, or applesauce. If they want french fries we have those too.”

Whole and cut fruit is available on theme park food carts. A low fat, no-sugar-added desert is available in all restaurants.

Disney uses 20,000 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables annually.

Disney’s top-selling children’s beverage is a 16-ounce lemonade pomegranate punch with less than 10 calories per serving. Pizza dough is 5 percent multi-grain with plans to ratchet up the amount to 40 percent.

Foods with almonds are available at Disney. Once consumers have a better understanding of the health benefits of almonds, Clark believes Disney will expand almond use at company properties.

cblake@farmpress.com