The U.S., with California accounting for 95% of its production, has overtaken Iran as the No. 1 pistachio producer in the world, Matoian said.
“The problem is we have alternate bearing, so we can be up one year and own another,” Matoian said.
California production was 354 million pounds last year, 277 million pounds in 2008 and a record 415 million pounds in 2007, Matoian said.
China also is emerging as a major buyer of nuts, said Matt Mariani, sales and marketing director with Winters, Calif.-based Mariani Nut Co.
“Historically, the big user has always been the Europeans for their confectionary trade and snacking. Europe continues to be a strong market, but China has really emerged as a major importer and purchaser,” he said. “India continues to be a strong market, and so does the Middle East. Those are some major success stories.”
China has been importing U.S. hazelnuts from Oregon for the last eight years, said Polly Owen, manager of the Hazelnut Marketing Board, Aurora, Ore.
“It’s definitely most lively in China,” she said. “That doesn’t look like it is slowing. Europe usually comes in second. They’re in demand there.”
China is importing an increasing number of pecans, as well, said Duke Lane, chairman of the Georgia Pecan Commission, Atlanta.
“The export markets to Mainland China have been a wonderful thing in the last four or five years,” he said. “The high antioxidant value of nuts and heart healthiness is related as high as any nuts, as far as nutritional value is concerned. That in itself has really enhanced the demand for nuts in general and pecans in particular, so we’re really looking at a good market.”