After prices declined substantially this year (35% in China) from reduced demand, pine nut prices are starting to recover. Known for its diverse uses, pine nuts are greatly in-demand in the hospitality industry as ingredients in dishes, most famously in pesto and as toppers in salads, as well as desserts.
Even though pine nuts account for about 1% of worldwide nut consumption, it commands a premium price in the market and is used in various industries including the bakery, confectionery, beverage, and cosmetics sectors, as well as being extracted for oil. Imports from two major markets: the US and Europe (shelled) have increased by 236% and 347% respectively from 2008 to 2018, exhibiting significant growth.
Data source: International Nut and Dried Fruit Council
China, North Korea, Russia, and Pakistan are the world’s biggest producers of pine nuts, with China’s annual kernel production averaging at 8.1K MT, North Korea at 4.9K MT, Russia, and Pakistan at 3.6K MT over 2014/15-2018/19. In terms of the nuts themselves, China’s annual production averages at 30K MT, Russia at 10K MT, and Mongolia at 35K MT. Out of these markets, China is the biggest exporter of pine nuts, accounting for approximately 64% of global exports, and is also the leading source of pine nuts for the US, EU, and the UK. In fact, a significant portion of in-shell pine nuts from other top producing countries (50% for Russia in 2016/17) is exported to China, processed, and then re-exported.
In 2020 there is expected to be 50K MT imported pine nuts and 30K MT domestically produced pine nuts (annually) within China. Of those 30K MT pine nuts produced in China in 2020, about 40% is consumed domestically while the remaining 60% is destined for international markets. Typically priced at a range of CNY 80 - 160 per kg (USD 12 - 25), systemized processing, as inexpensive labor costs, keep Chinese prices low compared to other players in the market.
For this year, the harvest commenced much earlier in August compared to the normal starting month of October, attributed to the effects of global warming. The production of pine nuts is cyclic, in which a good harvest occurs every 3-5 years, and the volume varies greatly for each season. According to supplier Jilin Xingrong, production in 2020 for Siberian pines has been mostly satisfactory while production for Korean pine nuts has been relatively lower.
Due to diminished demand this year from COVID-19, fueled by increases in supply as the harvest began, pine nut prices in China dropped by an estimated 35% compared to the same period in 2019. After exhibiting drops to as low as CNY 80 per kg in the early stages of harvest, prices are on track to recovering.
While the rebound of prices can be attributed to the reopening of the hospitality sector, supplier Jilin Xingrong has seen noticeable increases in demand coming from both the US and Europe, especially from supermarkets as retailers are stocking up on pine nuts before the holiday season. In addition, the anticipation of higher prices after reaching such a low point is encouraging buyers to purchase them in stocks, explains Jilin Xingrong. As supply steadied after the initial inflow from the new harvest, the shifts in demand have compelled prices to start returning to their normal levels.