Last month, pistachio exports from California to China reached record highs, according to American Pistachio Growers(APG). California has promoted pistachios with Miss California’s annual China tour. The tour this April with Jessa Carmack, Miss California 2016, traveled across four major cities in China: Chengdu, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing. During the tour, Miss California shot footage with a famous Chinese TV show called Shi Ke Re Sou(食客热搜). In this show, she and a representative from APG explained the differences between pistachios from the United States and those from other regions in detail.
Starting with Crystal Lee on April 7th, 2014, California pistachios have been branded with the title of ‘Miss California’s official snack’ due to the nut’s nutritional value. Miss Lee’s Chinese tour schedule included several food vendors, most of which were located in Shanghai and Guangzhou. According to Judy Hirigoyen, vice president of APG’s global marketing, the marketing of American pistachios is aimed at promoting the health benefits of the nuts. Accordingly, Miss California held two educational seminars in collaboration with Sichuan Nutrition Society and Guangdong Nutrition Society. The annual tour is met with enthusiasm from the local Chinese populations, and the Chinese word for pistachio is ‘Happy nut (开心果; Kai xin guo)’.
According to APG Executive Director Richard Matonian, US pistachios make up nearly 50% of China’s total imports of the nut, having increased by 60 million pounds in the past five years. Additionally, China makes up half of the total US nut market. The United States has exported nearly 350 million pounds of pistachios to China so far this year, more than any whole year in the past. The main exporters of US pistachios are in California. California makes up 99% of total US pistachio production, which rose to a record 903 million pounds in 2016 (a year without crop failure), doubling the volume harvested from 2010 through 2014. As a result, prices have fallen sharply, and US pistachios now have competitive power in global markets. A high portion of California pistachios are exported — 67 percent in 2014 and 90 percent in 2015. Currently, pistachios are California’s fourth largest agricultural export, making them an increasing source of income for local economies.
Heejae Park is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.