Pistachios – most associated with snacking in the consumer’s mind – could be finding their way into many a food product as an ingredient over the next few years, says the executive director of the American Pistachio Growers, as production is set to double by 2020.
“Pistachios have had limited use as an ingredient, because there has not been a consistent supply for formulators to consider pistachios as an ingredient,” said Richard Matoian from the American Pistachio Growers’.
“We have tracked new product introductions with pistachios as an ingredient, and they have increased, and we expect that to continue," he added. "The growers are going to have larger crops and they are going to need to find more uses of the product, whether that’s as a paste, flavor, or other type of ingredient."
Indeed, the production of pistachios has already increased dramatically over the last nine years, he said. “Since 2005, there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of new acres for pistachios,” he said, with 99% of this production in the state of California.
“Somewhere around 2020 we should have a harvest of one billion pounds,” said Matoian. “Presently we have 475 million pounds so we’ll double production in 6 years.”
Pistachios are grown in the same area and soil as almonds, he explained, and growers are not shifting from almonds to pistachios, but adding additional ground is being planted with pistachios.
The farm gate value, calculated by the number of pounds produced multiplied by the price paid by the processors, was $1.2 billion last year, he said. While it’s difficult to predict how commodity prices will increase over time, Matoian said that the relatively stable price of tree nuts over recent years gives him some confidence that the farm gate value will probably double as production doubles.
Matoian said that pistachios as an ingredient are already available today, “but we don’t see them very much”. The innovation has always been there, he added, but demand hasn’t with the price also seen as a factor.
There have been some high-profile pistachio foods in the market, although the best performers have been in niche markets. One mass example is when Frito Lay owned the True North healthy snack brand, and it offered a pistachio chip product. FritoLay subsequently sold True North to DeMet’s Candy, which recently sold the brand to B&G Foods. The pistachio chip product is no longer offered in the True North range.
Looking at almonds, Matoian said that some research had been done with a local university into the potential of pistachio milk. “It can be done,” he said, “but the price point was such that it wouldn’t attract consumers.”
So what can we expect? “Time will tell on a lot of things,” he said. “With a larger crop and more stability in the price, we’ll see more pistachio products.”
Changing the conversation
Looking closely at pistachios in comparison with almonds and walnuts and they have similar properties from a nutrient and health perspective, he said, but the message hasn’t filtered through to the mainstream consumer. “Ask a consumer about almonds and they say they’re heart healthy; ask them about walnuts and they’ll say they have omega-3 fatty acids. Ask a consumer about pistachios and you don’t get much out of them.”
“We’re good in fiber. We’re good in protein. We’re good in vitamin B6 and potassium. Pistachios excel in a number of areas.”
The message is changing, said Matoian, although it is not an overnight change. “Consumers are beginning to recognize the health benefits of pistachios.”
“This is where our focus is as an organization,” said Matoian, “to show consumers that pistachios are not just an indulgent snack but also a healthy one.”