American Pistachio Growers Meeting Highlights Marketing Strategies for Growers and Processors

Pistachio grower and processor members of American Pistachio Growers gathered in Visalia, Calif. for the annual summer membership meeting (photos by C. Parsons.)

This organization was built to sell your product,” American Pistachio Growers President Richard Matoian told pistachio growers assembled for the annual summer membership meeting.

Positive shipment numbers, a focus on sustainability in pistachio production and nutrition-based marketing efforts were highlighted by Matoian along with Haiying Zhang, director of global marketing, APG board member Rich Kreps and APG chair Dennis Woods. Matoian also highlighted some 2022 APG achievements. The organization sought and received purchase of 11.97 million pounds of pistachios for USDA food programs. It lobbied Congress for funding the Navel Orangeworm Sterile Fly release program. The organization’s annual conference, he said, had the highest attendance on record for the pistachio industry.

Richard Matoian, American Pistachio Growers president, outlined growth of export markets for U.S. pistachios.

American Pistachio Growers marketing team is working to build consumer demand ahead of production. APG’s LeadOn program to grow and educate future leaders in the pistachio industry has been renewed, and graduates will be recognized at the annual convention.
Matoian told pistachio growers and processors that all indications point to a large pistachio crop in 2023, outpacing the 2020 and 2021 crops which were the largest in the history of California pistachio production. APG’s 2022 annual report showed expected growth as 2021 and 2022 plantings were each close to 35,000 acres.

Matoian also lauded the APG global marketing team for increasing the number of global markets for U.S. pistachios, noting the pistachio industry has the potential to end the year with the highest number of shipments on record.

Shipments of pistachio nuts to export are up 8.5% compared to last year, he said, although domestic shipments are lower. For the crop year 2022-23, shipments to Asian markets are up 22.2%, shipments to China/Hong Kong are up 7.7% and shipments to India are up 144%. Shipments to the Middle East are up 55.5%. Canadian and Mexican markets as well as European markets showed a drop in shipments.

Focus on Sustainability and Nutrition
“Sustainability will be a driving force in the future,” Matoian said, “and we want to be the ones to define what that means.”

Consumers and buyers increasingly want to know what sustainable practices are being followed by growers, he said. APG has formed an ad hoc sustainability committee and the pistachio industry wants to define how it can be more sustainable to ensure marketability of pistachios. One of their goals is to establish credibility by collaborating with universities and institutions on studies and projects. Initial topics of discussion include improving soil health, cover crops, pesticide MRLs, groundwater recharge and demonstration projects. Matoian said APG would be applying for grant money to fund the demonstration projects. The next step would be to identify potential orchard sites for the demonstration projects. The ad hoc committee members are Chairman Karun Samran, Joe Coelho, Bob Engleman, Kreps, Rudy Placencia, Gary Smith, Mike Smith and Justin Wylie.

Outlined by Zhang, the APG Marketing Communications Process involves nutrition research, announcement of positive research findings, education with public relations and advertising and health professional outreach. Zhang said these efforts are aimed at changing consumer beliefs and increasing consumer awareness of pistachio health benefits.

APG nutrition research is the foundation for all marketing communication. Funding has led to 77 published studies on health benefits of eating pistachio nuts. American Pistachio Growers is highlighting health benefits of eating pistachio nuts and targeting nine major global markets. A study conducted by Cornell University and funded by APG shows pistachio nuts have a very high antioxidant capacity, rivaling blueberries, cherries and pomegranates.

Nutritionists recommend antioxidants from food sources to help protect healthy cells from free radical damage in the body.

Zhang said other studies have confirmed pistachios are one of the few plant-based foods that are also a complete protein. Pistachio nuts contain all nine essential amino acids in adequate amounts and are considered a complete protein for adults.

A new study published in the journal Applied Sciences found that pistachio extract is effective at inhibiting listeria bacteria in a laboratory setting. Researchers of the study believe the combination of antioxidants and polyphenols in pistachios may contribute to the antimicrobial effect of pistachios.

Amber Wells, director of APG Nutrition Research and Communications, said the results of these studies are being communicated to health professionals.

“This is an important audience as they recommend pistachio consumption to consumers,” Wells said.

There are antioxidant promotions in all pistachio importing countries, and each has customized plant including public relations with ambassadors, print advertising, digital and health professional outreach.

The effectiveness of all promotions is also measured. Zhang said global results from September 2022 to May 2023 showed 11 million impressions and 3,856 placements with a media value of $214 million. Key messages in all outreach include health benefits, complete protein, weight management and post-workout recovery.

From a grower perspective, Kreps said the health benefits research is driving demand for pistachios. “More consumers believe the message from health care professionals, and we need to keep funding that research,” he said.