Ways to Optimize Pistachio Sales

In the first of a series of interviews, Joseph Setton of Setton Farms takes us into the world of shelled and unshelled nuts.

Originally printed in the September 2021 issue of Produce Business.

Pistachios offer retailers an extraordinary opportunity, but few are grasping it. There are two aspects to marketing pistachios that are just not getting the attention they deserve:

First, pistachios must be marketed in the produce department. There have always been arguments in favor of doing this. Now, though, it is crucial. Locating the item amidst fresh produce literally transforms consumer perception of the item. It leads consumers to recognize the healthy attributes of the nut amidst the healthy fruits and vegetables.

There is, of course, demand for pistachios in the snack food aisle, but there, of course, consumers associate them with chips and pretzels and other alternatives consumers know are not very healthy.

If placed in produce departments, consumer perception shifts to the healthier aspects of the item. A quick look at WebMD will show any consumer the following:

Pistachio Health Benefits

Among the possible health benefits of pistachios:

  • High levels of unsaturated fatty acids and potassium. Both have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory traits.
  • They can lower your chances for cardiovascular disease.
  • Pistachios are bursting with the fiber, minerals, and unsaturated fat that can help keep your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol in check.
  • Their fiber and protein can make you feel fuller for longer. This fiber can also have a positive effect on your gut by aiding “good” bacteria.
  • They can help you manage your weight since they’re a nutritious and satisfying snack. This may help you eat less overall and lose weight. Buying pistachios in their shells slows down your eating.
  • Some studies suggest that eating pistachios lowers the amount of fat and sugar (glycemic index) in your blood, as well as improves the flexibility and tone of your blood vessels.

None of this come out when the item is merchandised in the snack food aisle.

Second, there is a big change in how pistachios are sold. Today pistachios are available in a range of flavored varieties and many kinds of packaging; with and without salt; with and without shells. Just as produce departments will sell an assortment of different grapes or stone fruits, there is now an opportunity to build diverse displays of this high-value item.

To help build the category and to see how different marketers urge retailers to market and promote pistachios, we will be doing a series of pieces, in print and online. In this issue, we start out by chatting with Joseph Setton, VP of Domestic Sales, Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella, CA:

Q: Pistachio sales have grown over the past 10 years; what has your company seen in the growth of sales in terms of dollars and volume?

A: The pistachio industry has been growing rapidly. With an record-breaking US crop of just over 1 billion pounds in 2020, pistachios led the nut category with $820 million in sales, and they continue to be a top seller into 2021. Consumers are recognizing more and more the value of pistachios as an optimal snack choice and part of a healthy diet.

Q: Do stores still sell pistachios in bulk form? Are there plans to start again or are they still under COVID restrictions?

A: Retailers are slowly refilling their bulk sections now that COVID safety measures have become more standardized. Every chain is different… at stores such as Winco [based in Boise, ID], consumers appreciate having a package-free, sustainable option which consumers appreciate.

Q: What are the optimum package sizes and price points?

A: We continue to see the one-pound bag as a top selling size. By offering inshell pistachios in roasted salted, roasted light salt, roasted no salt and raw options, we are able to satisfy a variety of consumer taste and health needs.

Q: What kind of promotions are effective in helping retailers boost pistachio sales?

A: Many types of promotions works well to lift pistachio sales. However, for our customers, we suggest offering consumers a daily value with our Setton Farms Roasted Salted Inshell 32-ounce bag. Supplemented with value-added items, such as Dark Chocolate Pistachios or Seasoned Kernels, retailers can increase the frequency of purchases outside of promotions.

Q: Where in the produce department are the best places to sell pistachios?

A: There are cross-merchandising opportunities when pistachios are promoted with such items as beer and soda, or as part of healthy lifestyle displays. We suggest to promote plant-based protein, such as pistachios, in recipes and merchandise with like ingredients. Having innovative products is important as well. Our new Scorpion Pepper Kernels, for example, are perfect for displaying with cilantro, avocados, and tomatoes, making it easy to pick up everything for fresh guacamole with a spicy kick!

Q: Have pistachios ever been in short supply where they haven’t been merchandised year-round?

A: Demand for pistachios has grown with the industry, as consumers become more knowledgeable of the various health benefits and versatility of pistachios. Retailers can take advantage of this demand by adding a variety of unique pistachio SKUs. As leaders in the pistachio industry, the Setton Farms brand has expanded the pistachio value-added category so it has become an extensive line of premium plant-based snacks that appeal to a wide audience.

Q: Is there a season for pistachio sales? What holidays are best tied into pistachio sales?

A: Pistachios are a healthy and convenient snack, popular throughout the year. While there is no particular season for pistachios, retailers can snag additional sales by advertising clean eating at the beginning of year when consumers are looking to get healthier. Back to school is another great time for pistachios as parents and children are busier, while pistachio kernels are a great option for holiday baking and cooking at the end of the year.

Q: How do you educate consumers about the health attributes of pistachios?

A: We value innovation, including using nutrient-dense pistachios in a variety of value-added options. We make sure that our items feature clear call-outs that quickly educate consumers on what they are purchasing.

In addition, we work with ambassadors and influencers around the country to organically spread the messaging of Setton Farms and our products. Through social media, we not only get to show the numerous health benefits of our products, we also show how simple it is to incorporate more plant-based protein into each meal and on-the-go.

Q: Do you teach consumers ways to consume pistachios other than as a snack (Pistachios used in cooking and baking perhaps)?

A: Consumers can visit us on Instagram for a variety of pistachio recipes hand-crafted by our influencer team. The offering of pistachio kernels are the perfect addition to all dishes from sweet to savory. This no-shells product offers an infinitely versatile way for consumers to add complete plant-based protein to all of their meals.

Q: Are there any stats as to who the biggest consumers of pistachios are?

A: Pistachios skew toward both higher and lower income households, with fit and healthy households likely to make more additional pistachios purchases.

Q: Consumers may perceive pistachios as less convenient than, say, almonds or pecans, which generally are sold without shells on them. Can you weigh in on this dilemma?

A: We’ve done the work for pistachio lovers everywhere by removing the shell, dry roasting (no oil!), and seasoning pistachios through an exclusive process to maintain the superior taste and quality our fans have come to expect. At our company, four seasoned varieties have been our mainstays: Scorpion Pepper, Salt & Pepper, Garlic Onion, and Jalapeño. We are now coming out with a new flavor: Dry Roasted Scorpion Pepper Pistachios — with extreme heat! For those looking for that fresh-from-the-orchard taste, Setton Farms also offers Natural Raw and Roasted Salted, which are also convenient for cooking and baking.

Q: For some, breaking or splitting the shells may be precisely one of the nut’s qualities they find most appealing. Does the fact that “people like to play with food” factor into the popularity of pistachios? There is an interactive nature to eating them.

A: We have been told that some people really do enjoy cracking open pistachios! With 49 nuts per serving, pistachios offer the largest serving size of any snack nuts. The simple act of shelling pistachios does slow consumption and help with portion control.

Many thanks to Joseph Setton and Setton Pistachio for kicking off our series of ideas on how to boost pistachio sales in the produce department. Stay turned for more ideas in the coming months.