Almond Market – Trade, Genesis & Characteristics

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the global almond market is that almond production keeps increasing year on year and during 2019 – 2020  around 1.36 million metric tons (kernel basis) were added which was an increase of 7% up from the previous season and 26% above the previous 10-year average according to International Nut & Dried Fruit Council. Further, the USA has continued to lead the production of almond which accounts for 77% of the world crop share during 2019-20. Followed by Australia and Spain accounting for a global share of 8% and 6% respectively. Over the last 10 years, the production of almonds has doubled in Australia crossing the 100,000 MT mark. Additionally, the almond crop of Spain has been increasing at a steady pace during 2019 – 20 reaching a production quantity above 78,000 MT.

almond market

The almond shipments across the world were led by the USA whose exports in 2018 was in the order of 534,128 metric tons of shelled almonds mainly to the European Union (49%) and Asia (27%) with China, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the Netherlands being the top destinations. Besides as far as in-shell exports which were in the order of 203,938 MT are concerned India contributed to more than half (53%), followed by China (22%) and Vietnam (12%). As far as shipments from Australia are concerned around 27,781 MT of shelled almond were exported to Asia (43%) with China occupying a substantial share, followed by the EU (36%) wherein Germany occupied a significant share.  A considerable amount of in-shell almond was also exported by Australia which was in the order of 35,064 MT half of which was received by India followed by Vietnam (24%) and China (17%).

That was a brief snapshot of the market and trade conditions during the past year. Now it's pertinent to mention certain historical aspects of this tree nut and the aspects that give credence to the current upswing in its demand. The properties of being a compact nutritious, and comparatively non-perishable food source that is appetizing even when consumed in quantity and/or over a period of time along with being an important constituent among the plants that were domesticated earliest by humans which made almond among the first tree crops to be cultivated, probably during the 3rd millennium BCE.  From the aspect of botany, it should be noted that seed is consumed and not the fruit. This suggests that the propagation source due to its resilience compared to other such sources have aided in expanding plantings and in and of itself as remained a concentrated, desirable, and relatively non-perishable food.

Around 30 species of diverse quality, morphology, and geographic origin represented the diversity of wild almonds traded and consumed by the early human communities. The trade routes of emerging civilizations from central Asia westward to the Mediterranean were among others followed by this genetically diverse commodity facilitating the early dissemination. As far as the prehistoric trade in Asia, North Africa, and Europe is concerned the widespread desirability and portability of almonds have been a major driving factor facilitating the creation of a market that has been evolving as well as a novel species which was the Greek Nut. This has been followed by the rapid reverse dissemination of these nuts towards the orient that comprises China and India from the early Greek and Persian civilizations which effectuated cultivation at a global scale. The propagation of almonds was also accompanied by rich folklore and diverse culinary practices.

The aforementioned was also based on the unparalleled horticultural characteristics of very early flowering and associated traits enabling it to thrive under harsh arid conditions and produced a kernel which is amygdaloidal-shape and sweet. The natural range of these early almond species overlapped comprising north-western China to the northern Indus Valley in the east, to Mesopotamia and southern Europe in the west, which, among others contributed to the transitioning of humans from hunter-gatherers to more permanent settlements. These cradles of civilization were also inherently the cradles of plant cultivation and domestication, which undoubtedly involved selection within the numerous wild almonds. Hence, since ancient times, the edible kernels of the wild almonds and related species were integral to the acknowledged food staples. The harvesting of wild almonds as early as 780,000 years ago in northern Israel by our human ancestors is reportedly supported by the use of stone tools to crack almond shells. The earliest Sumerian culinary texts had featured a list of banquet menu items that had almonds mentioned in them and Biblical references to the almond show it was common in Palestine by at least 1700 BCE. While the aforementioned doesn’t quite outline the length and breadth of the almonds' historical importance, it certainly provides how integral it was to the human culture since time immemorial.

Currently, the versatility of almonds makes it one of the go-to ingredients in bakery, cereal, confectionery, ice cream, nut mixes, and snacks besides being traded in bulk and sold in consumer packs.  Moreover, the global almond market encompasses a myriad of stakeholders which constitutes buyers, sellers, and good information which makes it extremely competitive and highly efficient.  Most markets go through a maturity cycle of almond use, beginning with top quality (Nonpareil Supreme or Extra #1 Grade) for gift and luxury use. This was true for Mexico, India, and China. As the market grows and competition increases, lower-priced varieties, and sizes are offered, thus increasing total demand for all varieties and grades. Ultimately, almonds are used as an ingredient in locally produced products, and a full range of almond products are consumed from top-quality whole almonds to manufactured (sliced, diced, powder, paste) to byproducts (whole and broken).

The majority of almonds are used by food companies as ingredients in their own branded products, especially in the mature markets (the USA, western Europe, Japan). Whereas processor-branded almond packs are a small part of the market. Besides due to commodity demand for ingredients independent handlers can compete with larger companies. This ability is also due to the prioritization of price, quality, and service over brand name by food companies.