In 2011, the value of Iran's dried fruits and nuts exports increased by 25%, reaching $1.45 billion. With over 900,000 tons produced yearly and 350,000 tons exported in 2011, Iran is firmly one of the world's largest sources of dried fruits and nuts. The country is a major producer of dried fruits and nuts, the major crops being pistachios, sultanas, dates, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, figs, apricots, prunes, and peanuts. It is the pistachio that enjoys the most success abroad, though the date trumps all in terms of production and domestic consumption.
Cultivated across 300,000 hectares mainly in the east of the country, Iran currently produces around 240,000 tons of dried pistachios annually. The nut is also one of the country's leading non-oil exports, accounting for 11% of the non-carbon export basket. A total of 70% of the country's pistachio crop is destined for export, and in 2011 140,000 tons were exported to China, the Middle East, Russia, and Europe. The sector has yet to reach its full potential, however, as it remains plagued by water shortages, out-of-date cultivation methods, inefficient packaging, and limited access to funding from banks.
Dates are Iran's second biggest export in the dried fruits and nuts category, and are predominantly produced in the south of the country. While 900,000 tons in 40 varieties were produced from the beginning of 2011 until May 2012, 115,000 tons were exported, with the majority heading to Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Canada. Sultanas come in third in export terms, with 114,000 tons of the 145,000 tons produced leaving Iran's shores over the same period for foreign markets. It is dates, however, which are most enjoyed by Iranian consumers. A total 850,000 tons were consumed, outshining pistachios and sultanas, of which only 25,000 tons and 20,000 tons were consumed, respectively.
Almonds also enjoy high domestic consumption, with Iranians tucking into 20,000 tons until May 2012. In contrast, only 2,000 tons were exported. The walnut has a similar story, consumed to the tune of 40,000 tons domestically with only 1,000 tons exported. Challenges in raising the competitiveness of Iranian products now lie in the cost of production, with high water costs often blamed for relatively low exports in some areas. Action is being taken on packaging, however, with Tavazo Dried Nuts actively researching better ways to keep products fresh with an aim of exporting to more humid countries in the Far East. “Packaging in Iran is cheaper than Europe and Canada… For example, a machine we buy here for $5,000 can cost up to $50,000 in the US," Tavazo Dried Nuts' Managing Director Parviz Tavazo told TBY, suggesting that Iranian products may become more prevalent in East Asia. Currently, the Middle East, Europe, and North America form Iran's major export markets for dried fruits and nuts. Tavazo Dried Nuts has had much success in North America, yet despite an investment of $800,000 in California, the business has had more success elsewhere. “Europe is a better market than Canada," he continues however, because “the population is familiar with nuts due to the presence of countries like Turkey and Spain. For example, Turkey boasts pistachios, almonds, apricots, and many other dried fruits and nuts. It has the experience to export these products to Europe. We produce more, though."