As many Americans prepare to embark on early-morning Black Friday shopping excursions, some might be wondering why pecan pie was missing from the dinner table yesterday. A nationwide pecan shortage, fueled in part by a relatively new pecan craze among China’s growing middle class, is to blame.
“In the mid-2000s, the market for pecans in China began to grow rapidly,” wrote The New York Times. “China now consumes more than a third of the American pecan crop, a development that followed the country’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001.”
The Chinese middle class is larger than the entire U.S. population – estimated to be in excess of 300 million people. Their attraction to the pecan can be attributed to its perception as a healthy gourmet import. Even the way that Chinese eat their pecans created disruptions in the nut’s domestic market.
“Unlike consumers, bakers, and ice cream makers in the U.S. who buy their pecans shelled, the Chinese prefer to procure the nuts still in their shells,” said Forbes. “Once the pecans arrive in China, processors crack them, douse them in a spiced marinade and roast them. The locals eat them out of hand, popping the pecan meat out of the shells just like [Americans] do with pistachios.”
Because most American pecan farmers sell their nuts directly to shellers before being passed on to retailers, Chinese buyers were able to cut out the middle man and buy direct. Shellers and retailers are feeling the squeeze as farmers watch their bank accounts grow.
Randy Hudson, the owner of Georgia’s largest pecan orchard, told the Times that he shipped 90 percent of this year’s crop to China. He called China his “best friend” for driving up prices.
Typical pecan pie recipes call for about half a pound of pecans. Last fall, a one-pound bag of pecans cost about $3.70. This week, the price climbed as high as $15.99 for a pound of the coveted pecan pie ingredient. At some U.S. bakeries, finished pecan pies surpassed the $30 mark – enough to make holiday shoppers opt for pumpkin or apple pie.
Timing doesn’t side with American pecan pie enthusiasts, either. According to Jeff Worn, vice president of the South Georgia Pecan Co., November 20 is the cut-off date for shipping pecans to China in time for the Chinese New Year celebration – the most popular time for the nut’s consumption.
With China’s middle class expected to surpass 600 million by 2022, U.S. pecan producers may be unable to meet demand. Americans may soon have to find another dessert to be thankful for.