Internet power boosts Western tree nut sales

Internet power boosts Western tree nut sales

The Internet is a critical venue for savvy marketing efforts by the U.S. tree nut industries. The Almond Board of California and the American Pistachio Growers spend about 70 percent of their annual budgets on marketing and promotion to sell more nuts. The APG touts pistachios as ‘The Love Nut’ due in part to research that suggests improvements in measures of erectile function and sexual satisfaction after eating 3.5 ounces of pistachios daily for three weeks. 

Today’s Internet is a highly-charged, information super magnet which attracts about 2.2 billion people worldwide daily seeking answers. Searches run the gamut from how to skip a rock across water to the nutritional benefits of U.S.-grown tree nuts.

The website reveals about 78 percent of the U.S. population has Internet access, mostly high-speed, compared with about two-thirds in Europe and Australia/Oceania.

The Internet is a very crowded place. With a plethora of special interests online, the competition for mouse clicks by Internet surfers is extremely vigorous.

For agricultural interests wanting to grasp the global consumer’s food dollar, highly effective, food-based websites are critical to meet the demands of today’s Internet savvy consumer interested in foods which contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

“Eight billion pages of online material help customers decide what to buy and not buy, including information analyzed before they enter a grocery store,” says John Hartman, president of MEA Digital in San Diego, Calif.

“This provides a fantastic opportunity for you (the pistachio industry) to provide that information,” said Hartman, who spoke during the 2012 American Pistachio Growers’ (APG) Conference held in San Diego, Calif., this spring.

(For more, see: Pistachio industry poised to sell record crops)

The same point is valid for other high-value California tree nut industries including walnuts and almonds, plus farm products in general.

MEA Digital recently launched the APG’s updated website,

“There are more than 1 million websites that mention pistachios,” Hartman noted. “That’s great but it means we need a fantastic website to stand out in the crowd.”

In the coming months, the APG website will include international versions in the Mandarin, Italian, Japanese, German, Spanish, and French languages.

The Internet is not your father’s Oldsmobile. It began with the development of computers in the 1950s; mostly for scientific purposes. The commercial Internet was rolled out around 1995.

Today, advertising and articles in print and via electronic sources through the Internet, radio, and television help spur global food sales. It is imperative for consumers to learn about agriculture so producers, processors, and marketers can continue to expand production to feed the burgeoning world, expected to reach 9 billion people by the year 2050. The current global population is 7 billion.

APG Board Chair Jim Zion told the 650-plus crowd that global pistachio sales need to increase 15 percent to 20 percent annually to keep pace with the estimated 100,000 acres of non-bearing acreage expected to enter bearing production over the next several years.

Currently, 250,000 acres of pistachio trees are in the ground (150,000 bearing and the 100,000 non-bearing acres).

California producers grow 98.5 percent of U.S. commercial pistachio production. The balance is grown in Arizona and New Mexico.

The same methodology is true for California-grown walnuts and almonds. To succeed, production from increasing acreage must be sold in domestic and international markets for supply and demand to be in sync. This helps create good producer prices essential for a long-term viable industry.

Lifeblood of tree nut industry

Marketing and promotion are the lifeblood for the tree nut industries.

The Almond Board of California (ABC) invests about 70 percent of its annual budget in promotion and marketing — about $37 million, split about equally between North America and international efforts, according to the ABC’s Jenny Konschak.

The APG also spends about 70 percent of its budget annually — about $3.5 million — on promotion and marketing, says Executive Director Richard Matoian. APG members grew, shelled, processed, marketed, and exported almost 45 percent of the U.S. pistachio crop last year.

Combined, California’s almond, pistachio, and walnut industries have a farm gate value of more than $4.3 billion — $2.2 billion, $1.16 billion, and $1 billion, respectively, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Zion referenced the importance of “360-degree marketing” which means starting with product marketing and wrapping it all up through final product sales.

Judy Hirigoyen, APG global marketing director, showcased the organization’s new marketing campaign called the “Power of Pistachios.” The strategy includes well-known public and sport icons who attended the conference, including 2012 Miss California Noelle Freeman and U.S. Men’s Water Polo team members.

The pistachio is the official snack of the Miss California pageant and the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Water Polo teams.

“These relationships open doors to new consumers worldwide and align perfectly with the wholesome image of American agriculture,” Hirigoyen said. “We now have a singular marketing campaign being effectively executed in the U.S., Europe, and China to expand the demand for American pistachios.”

The timing of the water polo team relationship with pistachios is perfect, says George Smith of Midsummer Marketing, an APG marketing affiliate in the European Union. The 2012 Summer Olympic Games will be held this summer in London, including competition for the men’s and women’s water polo Olympic gold medals.

Smith says APG will capitalize on this connection by increasing pistachio awareness before, during, and after the Olympics by emphasizing the health benefits of the green nut.

“It is an exciting time for London and for pistachios,” Smith said.

APG sample packs will be placed in post-race goody bags.

On the nutritional end, Hirigoyen praised the California walnut and almond industries for excellence in publicizing the nutritional benefits of nuts including healthy omega fatty acids.

APG has stepped up the pace on pistachio health claims — now touting pistachios as ‘The Love Nut.’ The pistachio is heart healthy, can reduce love handles (weight), and can help in the bedroom.

The latest research finding suggests pistachios can reduce men’s erectile dysfunction. The APG website reports a study of men between the ages of 38 and 59 with erectile dysfunction included improvements in measures of erectile function and sexual satisfaction after eating 3.5 ounces of pistachios daily for three weeks.

On increasing exports of all nuts, one of every five nuts shipped from the U.S. is bound for China. Equally, one out of five people in the world live in China. The country has about 1.3 billion residents.

Robin Wang of SMH International, APG’s China marketing firm for pistachios based in Shanghai, told the crowd that the Chinese currency currently makes U.S. products more affordable. The market for U.S.-grown pistachios remains strong with increased sales annually.

“For American pistachios, the big competitor is Iranian pistachios,” Wang said. “We have great opportunities to shift from the Iranian pistachio to the American pistachio in China.”

Several years ago, the U.S. pistachio industry claimed the title as the world’s top pistachio-producing country; a position previously held by Iran for many years.

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