U.S. shippers of dried fruits and nuts say they are getting increasingly enthusiastic receptions in established markets like Europe and emerging markets like China and India.
In many cases, export sales represent a substantial percentage of yearly revenues.
“Probably anywhere between 30% and 40% of our business is done internationally, be it retail or bulk packs,” said Jeff McLemore, product manager for North America at Yuba City, Calif.-based Sunsweet Growers Inc. “Consumption levels are strong, if not stronger, in places like Japan. The eastern European countries are strong.”
That should be no surprise, he said.
“Prune/plums started in France, so there’s definitely a high acceptance in that country, as well,” he said. “We feel good about the product we have and the overall safety that we stand behind with our product. We feel good that we have a process in place that we’re giving the highest-quality, safest product to the consumer.”
Nearly half of the dried plum crop from California is shipped to other countries, said Greg Thompson, general manager of the Yuba City-based Prune Bargaining Association.
“There’s a lot of potential in eastern Europe and Asia, China and some of the Asian countries,” he said. “Europe in general is the largest. Then, Japan and China. Plums generally have a good reputation in Asian markets. It’s just a huge market and a huge potential.”
Export sales have been “healthy” for Valley Fig Growers, Fresno, Calif., according to Linda Cain, vice president of marketing.
“We’ve got a good strong business in several countries — demand is there,” Cain said. “We see an escalation in the U.S. and it’s paralleled in other countries.”
Figs have a history of popularity in a lot of export markets, Cain said.
“Figs are well known in Europe. There’s been an appreciation for years in those markets, so we’re seeing increased interest in our markets over there, as well,” she said. “Asia is a very good market for us.”
Export sales of pistachios have shot up from about 35% of the total crop to about 65% in the past five years, said Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno-based Western Pistachio Association.
The emergence of China deserves much of the credit for that increase, Matoian said.
“When we look at markets like China, our sales went from $5 million to $70 million in sales in that five years just to China,” he said. “They have a growing middle class that are able to now purchase and consume products like pistachios. Year over year, we were talking about the increase domestically, there’s an increase of 18% in export markets from 2008-09 to 2009-10.”
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.”