By Hayley Boriss, Henrich Brunke and Marcia Kreith, Agricultural Issues Center, University of California.
Updated February 2013 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.
Raisins are the most popular dried fruit in the United States, accounting for about two-thirds of total dried fruit consumption. Raisins are primarily produced in California’s San Joaquin Valley and are sun dried.
In 2012, nearly 1.9 million tons (fresh basis) of raisin-type grapes were produced, a 13 percent decrease from 2011 (ERS 2012). Reduced production and other factors kept grower prices for raisin grapes strong; they averaged a record $1,940 per ton (dried basis). As a result, the value of production reached more than $725 million in 2012, only $5 million less than the previous year. (NASS 2013)
California raisin acreage (essentially accounting for all U.S. raisin acreage) peaked in 2000 at 280,000 acres. Since then, acreage has decreased each year, remaining at 205,000 acres for the last two years.
The United States is generally the largest raisin producer in the world, although Turkish production did surpass U.S. production in 2006. Historically, U.S. and Turkish production combined have accounted for 80 percent of global production figures. (FAS 2009)
Raisin production was once the most labor-intensive activity in North America (Rural Migration News). It traditionally involved a lot of hand labor, up to 40,000 to 50,000 workers for the typical six-week harvest, to cut bunches of green grapes and layer them to dry in the sun on paper trays between the rows of grapevines. However, the new dried-on-the vine (DOV) technology facilitates machine harvesting of the dry raisins, reducing worries about rain damage. Mechanization eliminated 90 percent of the harvesting jobs.
Green grapes have around 22 to 26 percent sugar, and drying reduces the amount of water and increases sugar to 60 percent by weight. Four to five pounds of green grapes dry into a pound of raisins.
Sun-dried seedless raisins constitute 93 percent of the total raisin crop. These raisins are the most popular raisin for cooking, baking, salads, desserts and eating out of hand. Golden seedless raisins account for 5 percent of the total raisin crop. Golden raisins are mechanically dehydrated and specially treated with sulfur dioxide to preserve the golden color. They are popular in fruitcakes. Currants are seedless mini-raisins. Made from a specific variety of grape, they are sun dried for use in baking. (Raisin Administrative Committee)
As of 2008, 24 raisin packers in California were responsible for the processing and packaging of raisins. The largest packers are Sun-Maid Growers of California, a cooperative owned by farmers. In addition, the 24 packers were also handlers (shippers) of raisins.
The California raisin marketing season lasts from the beginning of September to the end of May.
The Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC), established through the federal Raisin Marketing Order regulating raisins produced from California grapes, has authority to determine the quality, volume and price of raisins that may be shipped by handlers in any marketing channel or that must be placed in a reserve pool to be disposed of by RAC.
In years of oversupply, the RAC also can implement the Raisin Industry Diversion Program in which growers voluntarily participate in programs aimed at reducing supply. Program participants are reimbursed for either removing vines or spur pruning to reduce fruit production.
In addition, RAC has used funds provided by the Market Access Program to increase consumer and trade awareness of high-quality California raisins and to promote their use in food services, baking and cooking recipes overseas (FAS).
U.S. domestic marketing efforts have waned since the discontinuation of the California Raisin Advisory Board and retirement in 1994 of the advertisements depicting “dancing raisins.” In its place the California Raisin Marketing Board, created by the California Raisin Marketing Order in 1998, supports and promotes the increased use of California-grown raisins and sponsors crop production, nutrition and market research.
Per person consumption of raisins continues to decline, falling to 1.3 pounds in 2009, where it remains. Raisin consumption peaked in 1988 at 2.1 pounds per person. (ERS 2012)
Following low prices in the early 2000s, U.S. grower prices for raisin grapes dried into raisins have held strong, averaging $1,940 per ton (dried basis) in 2012. Prices averaged $1,660 per ton in 2011, up from $1,510 the previous year, which was the highest since 2004. The higher prices can be attributed to reduced production and tight inventories coming into the season, which drove down raisin supplies in the United States. (NASS 2013)
Spanish missionaries brought their grape-growing and wine-making knowledge to Mexico, New Mexico and California in the 18th century when establishing their missions. They also made raisins from Muscat grapes. Eventually, the San Joaquin Valley in California became a desirable location for raisin production because of the long, hot growing season and abundant water supplies. Also in the late 1800s, a Scottish immigrant, William Thompson, developed the Thompson seedless grape, which became the prevalent grape variety used in raisin production (California Raisin Marketing Board). In addition to being an excellent grape for raisin production, the Thompson seedless grape is versatile because it can be marketed as a fresh commodity or used to make grape juice or wine.
The United States is a net exporter (more exports than imports) of raisins. Only Turkey exports more raisins.
While the volume of raisin exports continued to fall in 2011, the value continued to rise because of higher prices. The value of raisin exports increased to a record-breaking $398.6 million, up from the previous high of $327.3 million in 2010. The top destination for U.S. raisins changed to Japan, which purchased raisins valued at $49.5 million, a 20 percent increase from the previous year despite a 6 percent decline in volume. Both the value and volume of raisin exports to the United Kingdom saw double-digit drops in 2011, while exports to Canada and Germany only experienced modest decreases in volume. Competition from Turkey and Iran is affecting the U.S. share of the market. (FAS 2012)
The United States imported raisins valued at nearly $28.5 million in 2011, down 5 percent from the previous year. Chile was again the leading supplier of raisins, as it has been since 2000, providing raisins valued at $18.2 million. Imports from that country jumped 24 percent, offsetting the double-digit decreases from Mexico and South Africa. (FAS 2012)
California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, California.
California Raisin Packers, Raisin Administrative Committee.
California’s Farm Labor Market: The Case of Raisin Grapes, University of California-Davis, 2008.
Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, ERS, USDA.
Fruit and Tree Nuts Yearbook: Dataset, ERS, USDA.
Global Ag Trade System, FASonline, USDA.
Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA.
Raisins: World Markets and Trade, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
Developed September 2006 and updated February 2013.