Almond prices steady on bumper crop forecast

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Almonds Nut

Prices for almonds, used in a wide variety of baking and snack products, should remain steady and even dip in 2008/09 as California growers forecast a bumper crop for the year.

Fresh statistics from the California Field Office estimate 1.5 billion meat pounds, up nine per cent from this year’s crop to date of 1.38 billion pounds. California is the main supplying region for almonds.

In 2007 shelled almonds - increasingly heralded for their cholesterol-free and low saturated fat status - pulled in prices of $1.87 a pound (€1.19).

And indeed the 2007 prices, stable on a booming crop, offered some relief to the food industry, that in 2004 and 2005, impacted by a hit on Spanish supplies, paid some $2.21(€1.41) and $2.81(€1.71) respectively per pound.

Brought to California by Spanish explorers, by 2000 the area became the world’s leading supplier of almonds. The US is the largest market for the Californian almonds, however nearly two-thirds of production is exported to over 90 countries abroad.

And favoured for use in confectionery products, Germany and Spain represent two of the biggest markets, mostly exported as shelled almonds, for California.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, globally, as per capita income rises in developing countries, market conditions for almonds become more favourable since countries enjoying greater prosperity can opt to introduce almonds into snacking and confectionery formulations.

India has emerged as one of the fastest growing markets for in-shell almonds, that with cheaper labour costs, shells and processes the nut ingredient for domestic use in food applications.

In the US, the majority of almonds are consumed as ingredients in manufactured goods, including cereals, snacks, confections and desserts, with remaining consumption coming from snacking.

And when prices dip, almonds are an increasingly attractive option for food makers compared to competing nuts that may demand higher prices.

Following soaring prices of 2003, 2004 and 2005 that saw almonds reaching $8,400 (€5,384) a tonne, in an effort to control supplies and stabilise prices, the almond marketing order established the almond reserve.

In years where large almond crops are expected to significantly depress prices, the almond reserve can require a percentage of almonds be withheld from handling and diverted to low paying secondary outlets.

Currently, attracted by their healthy Vitamin E, mono-saturated fat status, almonds - pitched at the premium end of the nut market - are enjoying a favourable profile in the eyes of the nutritionally-aware consumer.

Recent research from market analysts Mintel shows consumers are increasingly turning to seeds, dried fruit and nuts to fill the gap between mealtimes, pushing sales of those snacks to the £0.5bn (€0.7bn) mark, with 50 per cent growth in the category since 2001.

Sales of luxury nuts - Brazil nuts, walnuts or almonds - have almost doubled in five years to £189m (€281.82m) and, in 2005, overtook peanut sales.

The popularity of high-fat peanuts have waned in recent years on the back of increased concerns over peanut allergies, and anti-obesity campaigns that seek to slash fat from consumer diets.

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