(Sept. 30) Pistachios — they’re not just for the holidays anymore. They’re also the top-performing nut in the produce department.

Those are just a couple of the findings in two studies commissioned this year by the California Pistachio Commission, Fresno. The news the commission got was so good, it’s hanging its promotional efforts this year on them.

“We’re seeing a major shift in consumer awareness of pistachios,” said Karen Reinecke, the commission’s president. “Consumers no longer think pistachios are just for the holidays, and an increasing number now include them on their regular shopping lists.”

EVERYDAY SNACK

In 1989, 76% of shoppers considered pistachios a holiday treat only, reported one of the studies by Rose Research. By 2002 that number had fallen to 37%. In 2002, 64% said they ate pistachios year-round. That’s up from 14% in 1989. About 51% of those polled consider pistachios an everyday snack, compared to just 14% in 1989.

Similarly, pistachios have traditionally done well for Super Bowl parties. But now retailers are pushing promotions around NCAA basketball’s March Madness and for other sporting events, Reinecke said.

To encourage the year-round consumption of pistachios, one of the highlights of the commission’s marketing plan this year is to convince retailers to spread promotions throughout the year, providing smaller discounts, instead of offering occasional promotions — with big discounts — around holidays and the Super Bowl.

PROMOTIONS 10 TIMES A YEAR

Retailers that promoted pistachios more than 10 times a year got the most bang for their buck, according to the second study sponsored by the commission, conducted by the Perishables Group.

The Perishables Group study also found that pistachios outsell every other nut in the produce department. Not only that, they also sell as well as apricots, papayas, kiwis and garlic. Pistachios made up 0.7% of total sales in the produce departments of the 10 chain stores the study analyzed.

“Our industry has done a very good job of encouraging retailers to advocate and promote bulk pistachios,” Reinecke said. “At $3.99 a pound — $2.99 on sale — they provide a nice ring for produce departments. They have very little shrink and are an easy item to carry.”

GRAB A HANDFUL!

The commission has redesigned the free display bins it provides retailers to capitalize on the success of the industry’s Grab a Handful! logo. The bins also feature pictures from its successful print advertising campaign, launched a year ago.

Two of the ads from that campaign will run again in magazines this year and next. In addition, the commission is rolling out a new ad to capitalize on another finding in the Perishables Group report. About 84% of consumers polled said pistachios were a good snack for the whole family, compared with 15% in 1989.

As a result, the commission’s new print ad this year features a family eating pistachios while playing a board game. The ad will run in women’s magazines in November, December and January.

Another area where the commission hopes to make big gains is in pushing the health benefits of pistachios. The Snack Food that’s not a Junk Food, the commission’s other slogan, should play well given the recent focus on America’s obesity problem, Reinecke said.

“The whole concept of getting away from snack foods high in saturated fats lends itself to healthier eating, and we think we can benefit from that. There’s been such a shift on consumer attention.”