CLOVIS, Calif. — Just back from the first American Pistachio Growers’ promotional tour of China, members of the delegation were still using terms such as “amazing” and “tremendous opportunity.”
It was not just a good trip, said Rich Matoian, the Fresno-based group’s executive director.
“It was an excellent trip,” he said. “I would say it was highly successful by every measure.”
China’s growing importance to the U.S. pistachio industry is evidenced by the numbers.
Don SchrackZion“In the last five years, there has been a nearly 700% increase in our pistachio shipments to China,” said Jim Zion, chairman of APG’s board of directors and managing partner of Meridian Nut Growers LLC, Clovis. “In fact, one of every five pistachios shipped from the U.S. is bound for China.”
The future for U.S. pistachios in China could be even brighter.
“We’ve only tapped a small portion of that marketplace, we think,” Zion said.
The delegation included three other grower-shippers: Zachary Sheely, Lemoore; Steven Moore, Fresno; and, Jeremy Blackwell, Visalia; and Judy Hirigoyen, APG’s director of global marketing and Noelle Freeman, Miss California 2011. News conferences and nutrition seminars were held in Beijing and Shanghai in addition to “The Power of Pistachios” themed events at retailers in both cities.
Shoppers are thirsting for nutritional and processing information among China’s growing middle class, Zion said.
“Food safety in China is a huge issue right now,” he said. “The consumers are extremely worried about their locally produced food and want to buy foreign goods.”
Consumer education is something of a new phenomenon in China, Zion said. Consumers, retailers and the media peppered the delegation with questions about where the product is grown, how it’s grown, how to know that it is healthful and that it was handled in a safe manner, he said.
“We showed videos of pistachio harvests and processing,” Matoian said. “We were amazed at the reaction when the Chinese saw that the pistachios are dropped into catch frames — that the nuts never touch the ground.”
Courtesy American Pistachio GrowersLarge crowds of Chinese shoppers turn out to purchase U.S. grown pistachios during a promotional tour of China by a delegation from American Pistachio Growers.The growing Chinese middle class has forced changes for the retail industry.
“It’s moved from a traditional wet market, where people shop in outdoor markets, to hypermarkets that would rival anything you’d find in the U.S.,” Zion said.