American Pistachio Growers (APG) didn’t just discover Zoom in 2020.
The California-based trade association took the video conferencing app and turned it into a tour de force of U.S. pistachio marketing.
“The results were pretty incredible,” said Judy Hirigoyen, APG’s vice president of global marketing. “Zoom has provided a new way to reach an awful lot of people.”
A year ago, Hirigoyen didn’t know what Zoom was. But like businesses everywhere, APG was forced to re-think its promotional efforts when pandemic restrictions halted travel and in-person meetings last year.
The APG team knew it was essential to maintain consumer demand for pistachios as the world economy withered. But there were other marketing challenges, too, including the largest-ever U.S. pistachio crop expected by year’s end.
Enter Zoom, the online app that has become a regular feature of businesses, schools, work-from-home employees and private chats around the world. In 2020, Zoom was the most downloaded Apple app of the year, according to USA Today. Zoom video meeting usage rose from 10 million to 300 million users.
Among those new users were Hirigoyen and APG. Last November, the trade group used the online tool to conduct a two-punch Zoom presentation: a virtual tour of a California pistachio harvest followed by a celebrity chef cook-along to promote U.S. pistachios. Some 381 food writers and social media influencers from around the world participated in the combined Zoom event.
Presented several times that month to reach different audiences, the virtual event exceeded expectations. By early January, the effort had reached an audience of more than 805 million through articles, broadcasts and social media posts.
“That number will increase as several writers said they’re releasing the chefs’ recipes in the new year,” Hirigoyen said. “These numbers mean this is one of our most successful efforts in the past year.”
A Closer Look
Hirigoyen and her team know commodity crops don’t sell themselves, even when global demand is trending upward, as pistachios have seen since 2016.
But 2020 brought exceptional marketing challenges. There was, of course, the need to capitalize on the record billion-pound U.S. pistachio crop. Add to that the explosion of pistachio acreage in California in recent years, destined to bring even greater supply to market. Rabobank forecasts California’s pistachio bearing acreage to jump 30% by 2025.
There were also market hurdles from stiff retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, the top export market for U.S. pistachios. And weighing heavily was the uncertainty of the pandemic and the global economic downturn.
Facing those headwinds, APG launched its biggest-ever advertising and marketing campaign in November 2020. Calling it “a full court press,” APG targeted food writers, food industry professionals and industry influencers as a way to reach buyers and consumers across the globe.
The new campaign involved television, print and digital advertising in the U.S. and major export countries. It also developed ads to run in 44 U.S. television markets. And it included APG’s initial use of Zoom. In November, APG hosted that virtual tour of a pistachio harvest in the San Joaquin Valley. It featured grower (and West Coast Nut contributing writer) Rich Kreps of Madera, Calif. live as he narrated video taken of his first-ever harvest.
Piggybacked on to that was a live, interactive cooking demonstration with a celebrity chef. Making U.S.-grown pistachios the star of their dishes, each chef prepared a savory and a sweet dish. Wolfgang Puck prepared pistachio recipes for online viewers in the U.S. and Germany. On another day, Gerald Hirigoyen (no relation to APG’s Judy Hirigoyen) shared his pistachio dishes with French, Spanish and American audiences. Martin Yan cooked for online participants in China. Nancy Silverton devoted one day to an Italian audience and another to participants in India.
Among those participating from afar was India’s Chef Meghna, who has 3 million social media followers. “Was amazing to see American Pistachio[s]…get harvested virtually in California and watch Master Chef Nancy Silverton…create incredible recipes,” Meghna told her Facebook audience during APG’s Zoom presentation. “American Pistachios have now made their way to India, and catch me using them in a series of recipes in the upcoming episodes.”
Broadening Market Reach
The Zoom event allowed APG to expand its global reach, so important to the economic health of the U.S. pistachio industry, which sends about 70% of its crop overseas. China, via Hong Kong, is the top market for U.S. pistachios, followed by the European Union.
The virtual presentation also gave APG the opportunity to amplify its key messages. Among them: Pistachios are a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. The nuts bolster weight-loss plans and lower blood pressure. Further, their health benefits are especially important in countries like India and China, where diabetes is widespread, likely due in part to the white rice in both population’s diets. Research shows pistachios blunt the spike in blood sugar from carbohydrates like rice.
Including the Indian audience in the Zoom events was especially strategic since pistachios have long been considered a luxury there. Promotional work by APG showing that pistachios have as much protein as an egg and can be an everyday, healthy food “has blown the doors open in India,” said Hirigoyen. “We’re seeing terrific growth in India.”
With the success of its first Zoom campaign, APG will host more far-reaching virtual events in the coming year.
“Zoom has become an important part of our day-to-day business and promises to connect us to our foreign stakeholders more closely going forward,” Hirigoyen said.
While November’s chef cook-alongs are no longer viewable, you can find their pistachio recipes at: americanpistachios.org/Virtual-Harvest-Cook-Along
Look for Puck’s roasted rack of lamb; Silverton’s whole roasted cauliflower with pistachio crumble and green onion crème fraiche; Hirigoyen’s poached halibut with pistachio soup; and Yan’s pistachio chocolate candy bars.