A group of American pistachio farmers have returned from Shanghai and Beijing where they were received with enthusiasm by Chinese consumers and media. Unaccustomed to attention but happy to answer questions about farming in the U.S., growers such as Zachary Sheely of Lemoore, Calif. learned that Chinese middle-class consumers are increasingly interested in food safety, security and health. Sheely says, "There is a lot of respect in China for U.S. agricultural exports."
American pistachio farmers are looking to China, where a growing, health-minded middle class with an affinity for American products is an important developing market. Based on industry data, current plantings of pistachio trees will double the size of the crop from 2009 levels, in just five years. As a result, American Pistachio Growers (APG), the industry's voluntary trade association is working hard to create demand ahead of the plantings that are about to mature.
"Consumers want to meet people who produce their food, regardless of where it originates," explains Jim Zion, APG chairman who also participated in the tour. "Our growers have committed to personally reach out to their customers---even in China---to make that happen."
They were joined by Miss California Noelle Freeman, who has a Chinese grandmother and proved to be very effective as a brand ambassador. Miss California and her entourage of farmers had a full itinerary of personal appearances including television, newspaper and magazine interviews, in-store appearances and VIP events. While in China, the group was surprised to learn they were the top-trending topic on the Chinese version of Twitter.
The U.S. is the No. 1 global producer of pistachios, surpassing Iran in 2008. Pistachios are now one of the top four agricultural exports from California. APG represents members who are pistachio growers, processors and industry partners in California, Arizona and New Mexico. These states represent 100% of the domestic commercial pistachio production.