Almonds: The little nut that cracked the big export game

11 July 2022

They are healthy, delicious and former US President Barack Obama’s favourite late-night snack. Almonds are in huge demand worldwide – and Australian almonds are among the most popular. Australia’s top horticultural export is now available in more than 50 countries. Exports have risen by 213% over the past decade.

Almond grower and processor Select Harvests is capitalising on this demand. The company is working with Austrade to diversify into Southeast Asia and the UK.

The surge in demand has also prompted Australian growers to expand their farms and newcomers to plant fresh crops. Growers are adopting sustainable farming practices and new technologies to ensure these new plantings don’t come at a cost to the environment.

The Almond Board of Australia (ABA) is gathering data on the industry’s sustainability measures as part of its upcoming Australian Sustainable Almonds Program.

‘The Australian almond industry has a positive sustainability story to tell,’ says the ABA’s CEO Tim Jackson. ‘There is a clear commitment to continuous improvement that will benefit the people, planet and prosperity of the communities in which we operate.’

Australia’s top horticultural export

The first almond trees were planted on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island in 1836. Today, Australia is the largest producer of almonds in the Southern Hemisphere. There are over 17 million trees across more than 58,500 hectares in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The farmgate value of the almond industry is expected to exceed $1.3 billion by 2025.

Known for their flavour and quality, Australian almonds are a hit around the world. Almond exports were worth $545 million in 2020–21. Around 67% of exports go to Asia-Pacific and Oceania. China, India, Vietnam and New Zealand are the top 4 markets.

In the past decade, Australian almond exports have increased by 213%. The 2021–22 export numbers have remained steady over the previous year. Sales to Europe grew by 24% and sales to the Middle by 43%. India, Thailand, the UAE, Spain and France increased their orders.

Health-conscious consumers are behind the rise in demand. The COVID-19 pandemic created strong demand in markets such as India, where they are considered immune boosters. The counter-seasonality of Australian almonds is also a competitive advantage. The Australian crop is available 6 months earlier than the Californian crop. This provides buyers around the world with a viable alternative source, especially in uncertain times.

Austrade support for exporters and the industry

China remains a pivotal market for many exporters. However, they are also expanding or diversifying into other markets.

One such exporter is Select Harvests, one of Australia’s largest almond growers and processors. The company has increased production, so it has extra capacity to supply more markets. Its two biggest markets are China and India, and it also exports to the Middle East and Europe.

‘Select Harvests has always been good at diversifying our markets,’ says Ekrem Omer, International & Retail Sales Manager, Select Harvests. ‘We’re interested in markets with a demand for healthy snacks and which are easy to access from Australia.’

Austrade has introduced Select Harvests to potential customers in Malaysia, Thailand and the UK. The agency has connected the company to trade enquiries from Japan and Spain. Select Harvests has also taken part in an Austrade–Almond Board virtual meeting as part of the Australia-India Business Exchange program.

‘The great thing about Austrade is their people understand the market,’ says Omer. ‘They know who the main players are, what the market is demanding, and who’s importing what. We’re working with Austrade to find the right customers to target. It’s saving us a lot of time and effort, and we can be more strategic when entering a market.’

Austrade is supporting the industry, featuring Australian almonds in its ‘With us’ marketing campaign. The campaign invites international buyers to consider Australian produce and to partner with Australian suppliers. Austrade ran the campaign in India, Malaysia, Thailand, the UAE, Japan and Korea.

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Sustainable farming underpins long-term growth

The rising demand has sent the Australian almond industry into overdrive. Farmers are expanding orchards and newcomers are developing greenfield sites to tap into a high-demand product.

The industry is determined the increased activity will have minimal impact on the environment. Jackson says growers recognise that sustainability is an integral part of best management practice. They have adopted green farming practices, including using advanced irrigation technology to improve water efficiency and “grow more crop for every drop”.

‘The beauty of the almond industry is the zero waste of each crop,’ says Jackson. ‘The prolonged shelf life ensures every part of an almond is consumed. Even the hull and shell are being used for stockfeed and as an energy source.’

The ABA is planning to aggregate independently verifiable industry data on globally accepted sustainability measures. This data will be used to benchmark the industry’s sustainability credentials as part of the ABA’s Australian Sustainable Almonds Program. Soon, exporters may need to prove their sustainability credentials when bidding for supply contracts.

‘Almond growers don’t sing from the rooftops about their achievements,’ says Jackson. ‘We’re bringing to light the amazing work they are doing. It will be part of an ongoing education process for the broader community.’

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