EghtesadOnline: The Fourth International Exhibition of Nuts, Dried Fruits and Related Industries opened at Tehran International Exhibition Center on Friday and will run through Jan. 9.
The event was attended by Deputy Minister of Industries, Mining and Trade Mojtaba Khosrotaj, who told Financial Tribune that Iran supplies more than 50% of the world pistachio market.
"The world pistachio market is worth over $2 billion and our exports amounted to $1.2 billion last year (March 2015-16). In the nine months to December 20, we exported over $800 million worth of the product and expect to repeat last year's figure by the yearend."
Khosrotaj, who is also the head of Iran Trade Promotion Organization, said Iran's main rival in pistachio production is the US state of California, according to Financial Tribune.
Yet, according to him, Iranian pistachio has four characteristics that give it a unique quality.
First of all, he says, if the seed is separated from the shell, one kilo of Iranian pistachio would give you more seed than American pistachio. Second, the Iranian product has more oil and can therefore, be better processed. Third, the Iranian pistachio has a distinguishing taste and finally there are various kinds of pistachios cultivated in Iran, some of which are consumed as nuts and the rest are used as ingredients in the food industry.
Khosrotaj noted that pistachio produced in Turkey or Syria, for instance, can only be used in the food industry and are not fit for consumption as nuts because of their appearance.
Pistachio, as well as raisins and dates, he said, are the three main nuts exported from Iran and together play an important role in the country's non-oil exports.
"We exported over $150 million and $122 million worth of raisins and dates respectively over the nine-month period and expect the figure for both commodities to reach $200 million by the end of the year. The export of these three products is estimated to reach approximately $1.5 billion this year," he said.
The deputy minister further said that over the past few years, there have been many improvements in the domestic nut industry, but there are issues concerning each of these products.
He stressed that one common problem is packaging that has yet to catch up with international standards.
"Today in the exhibition, I saw that some companies have launched research and development sections to enhance the industry in all aspects. High technology, which paves the way for innovation, plays a key role in international trade nowadays. We also need to improve quality control all along our production chain," he said.
"On the other hand, consumer tastes are constantly changing and new competitors with new products are entering the arena every day. So, at this point, there's no room to waste time. We need to assess the market and customers' demands regularly and measure up to expectations. True, we have made improvements quality-wise, but where we stand is not yet ideal."
Khosrotaj called on the private sector, their production and export unions and associations to suggest ways of making improvements to eliminate impediments in their respective businesses.
"Basically, experts in the nut business, who have paid visits to farms, orchards and factories across the world and are familiar with different production methods, can better guide officials in taking measures needed for the industry to thrive," he said.
Khosrotaj said TPO considers its duty to help producers and exporters take part in international exhibitions and will assist them in bearing the expenses of attending these events.
> Exhibitioners on Nut Business
Mohammad Ali Khoshbin, managing director of Ratinkhosh Company, says his company exports to 45 countries.
Up until now, his company, like many other Iranian ones, has exported its products in bulk, but he says preparations are underway for exports to be carried out under their own brand in the near future.
The official believes Iranian producers need to standardize their products and know what customers seek in terms of quality and packaging. But, unfortunately, he says, producers just copy each other, regardless of market demand.
Foreign customers complain that the quality of Iranian nuts is not the same from one shipment to another and this, he says, is what can significantly damage the business.
"We need proper commercial and agro infrastructure, marketing, financial resources and experience to go hand in hand with and complement the production chain," he said.
Khoshbin said high-tech machinery, including camera, laser sorters and X-ray machines, are usually imported from Europe but Iranian machinery is being used alongside foreign ones.
"The export of goods is a process and in our field of activity this process begins in the orchard. A successful business demands grade one products from the farmers, production capability and good machinery from producers and adequate trade marketing and expertise from exporters," he said.
"The ministries of agriculture, and industries, mining and trade, chambers of commerce and banks have to cooperate for this process to be carried out properly."
> What Producers, Exporters Expect
The seasoned businessman said all governments seek to increase their exports, which can be brought about when the government gives support to competent and dedicated exporters.
"We expect the government and Iran National Tax Administration to do away with the many restrictive regulations, banks to provide us with financial resources, the Agriculture Ministry to train farmers in the knowhow of farming and the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade to help producers with the machinery and space they need to operate," he said.
Exporters, says Khoshbin, are exempt from paying tax, but INTA demands tax from profits made on foreign exchange fluctuations.
"This is very unreasonable since the profit made is part of the export process," he said.
Mahmoud Sabzi, managing director of Tabrizkar Company—manufacturer of machinery for processing nuts and seeds, said they are not getting any support.
"Government organizations each seem to be operating on different regulations and there is no unified policy to guide them in what they do. One organization promises support while the other puts stumbling blocks in our way. This is highly discouraging," he said.
"High-ranking officials want to help, but when it comes to officials of lower ranks, that's where the problem begins."
Another problem, the owner of the knowledge-based company said, is that producers don't invest in good machinery and are content with the old traditional ones they have.
"They think buying new machinery is just an extra expense, while I believe high-tech machinery increases productivity and can generate more profit in a shorter period," he said.
Sabzi noted that if everyone, including the officials, producers and exporters, thought ahead and had long-term plans, it would benefit the industry.