James Ditmore is among the pitchmen across the U.S. pecan belt working to open doors to expand exports to more countries worldwide.

Ditmore is an international trade specialist with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA). Ditmore and others are focused on adding the pecan to the world’s buffet of nut offerings which currently includes U.S. walnuts, almonds, and other nuts.

Ditmore discussed current and future pecan marketing activities during the Western Pecan Growers Association Conference in Las Cruces, N.M. in March. More than 600-plus growers and other industry members attended the 45thannual event.

A marketing effort which placed New Mexico pecans on the worldwide map began almost a decade ago, thanks to Ditmore’s marketing vision. In 2006, the first major shipments of New Mexico inshell pecans were sold to China. Before then, the pecan was an unknown nut to the Chinese people.

“The word ‘pecan’ was not in the Chinese language,” Ditmore said. “We labeled the pecan as the ‘long life’ nut. The Chinese referred to it as an exotic nut.”

In the U.S., the history of the pecan can be traced back to the 16th century. Pecan is a Native American word of Algonquin origin used to describe "all nuts requiring a stone to crack.” 

Today, inshell New Mexico pecans sold to China and then soaked in brine once in the country sell for about $6.50 to $7 per pound (U.S. dollars). Fancy packaging includes gold-colored fancy emblems plus the photo of a Chinese movie star.

New Mexico shelled pecan exports have steadily increased to China. More recently, China has purchased shelled pecans (meats). The largest market is southern China - targeting Shanghai and Hong Kong with its 25 million-plus residents.

While the U.S. pecan industry has cracked the China market, Ditmore is sensitive to putting “all the eggs in one basket.” He is broadening international marketing efforts for pecans.

“China could close their doors tomorrow to pecans,” Ditmore explained. “We want to develop new markets to incorporate pecans in the global diet.”

Pecan marketing is underway in the Middle East and northern Africa. Ditmore, growers, shellers, and others have marketed pecans at numerous international food trade shows, including recent events in March in New Delhi, India, plus Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

“India could prove to be a lucrative market and Dubai has tremendous potential,” Ditmore said.

About 95 percent of India’s population is vegetarian. Pecans can help achieve the protein requirements in the vegetarian diet.