The US Pecan Industry Needs More Than Just Marketing

April 04, 2024

One of the things that sets the Almond Industry apart from all of the other tree nuts is the strength and proactive nature of the Almond Board of California.  Through their efforts, and those of many of its member growers (Blue Diamond, Wonderful, etc.), the board has established a set of quality standards, production practices and information systems that are accepted and used around the world. Yes, the industry has also benefited from a great marketing and research program, and the fact that they have millions of dollars to fund each, but it is the standards and information systems that allow buyers to know exactly what they’re buying, how to handle the product and how to promote it.  It is the latter areas that the pecan industry needs to spend more time on, because without good standards, policies, procedures and information systems, even with an effective marketing program, both buyers and consumers will still be left without the critical information they need to increase consumption.  That is not to say that the industry isn’t attempting to address some of these deficiencies, the recent USDA Standards update being a good example, but there is a lot more that the American Pecan Council needs to be doing, the first of which is to make the new standards mandatory (the topic of a future discussion).

In 1979, Dr. Jasper Guy Woodruff, of the University of Georgia, published the book Tree Nuts: Second Edition based on over two years of data obtained from UGA studies conducted during the late 1960’s.  In addition to marketing and nutritional information, the book covered production, processing and storage of every major tree nut.  However, it was his discussion of pecans, which make up the largest section of the book, that became the industry standard.  To this day, it is his storage recommendations for raw pecans that are followed by the bulk of the industry.  Unfortunately, there has been little follow-up research since.  Yes, the NPSA and APC recently completed a shelf life study on some aspects of pecan storage, but to date, none of the results have been published, and due to limited financing, was limited in scope.

I mention this because earlier this week, I was asked by a major ice cream manufacturer to supply shelf life information on the roasted, buttered and salted pecans they were receiving from us for use in their butter pecan ice cream. Like many large customers, this buyer has three suppliers.  Unfortunately, each of the three lists a different shelf life for their product ranging from a low of six months to a max of 1 year.  How can that be, especially when one considers the fact that cottonseed oil, the oil primarily used by the industry for roasting, only has a shelf life of 6 months prior to use?  For those ice cream manufacturers that spec peanut oil in their product, they can expect a shelf life, prior to use, of only 9 months.  Most butter manufacturers will tell you that the shelf life of butter is only 6 months after use.  So if two of the major ingredients used to make roasted buttered and salted pecans for ice cream is less than 6 to 9 months, how can the shelf life of the finished product be longer?  While anything is possible, is there any reason why the buyer should not be confused?  This is only one example.  What happens to shelf life when the pecans are coated in sugar or chocolate?  What about different packaging materials?  I could go on but I think you get the point.  We cannot expect to get our buyers to purchase more pecans if we can’t even answer a simple question.  The industry needs to develop these standards, and until it does, pecans will continue to be looked at as an expensive inferior luxury product.