Consumers Love Eating In-Shell Seeds
Prehistoric Indians in the present-day United States cultivated and consumed sunflower seeds many centuries ago. The seeds were ground into a fine meal or flour for cakes. Some ancient Indians also used sunflower seeds for medicinal purposes to cure snakebites, cuts and bruises. Nineteenth and early 20th century settlers also ate sunflower seeds, recognizing them as a tasty and nutritious food.

Today, about 25 percent of U.S. confection sunflower seeds are consumed domestically in-shell. Most are roasted and salted in the shell and eaten as a snack. Recently, sunflower seeds became available in flavors such as barbeque, sour cream & onion, Cajun, ranch and hot & spicy.

Sunflower seeds have found their niche in the large market of people who enjoy outdoor activities, subsequently, sales peak in the summer months. Most people in the world, including some Americans, eat sunflower seeds one at a time holding a single seed in their fingers. Baseball players, truckers, outdoor enthusiasts and school kids are among the many groups of consumers who derive pleasure and nutrition from popping a handful of sunflower seeds into their mouths. This method of eating sunflower seeds makes American consumers unique in comparison to most other countries.

Baseball players eat sunflower seeds instead of chewing tobacco in most cases. Truckers enjoy eating sunflower seeds as a way to keep busy and alert during long periods of time spent driving. In the spring and summer months you can find sunflower seeds sold in virtually every type store you can think of in the Midwest. Outdoor enthusiasts and school kids will tell you that there is no better way to enjoy this time of the year than eating "spit'n" seeds.
Popular Chinese nuts and seeds include peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, pine nuts and sunflower seeds. Chinese consumers spend approximately 10% of their total grocery bill on snacks.

October through April is the highest consumption period for seeds and nuts. When the weather becomes warmer during May through September, consumption decreases.

China has traditionally been a large consumer of sunflower seeds. People within all social and income levels eat them. The main reasons for the popularity of sunflower seeds in China is the tradition of eating them and the economical price in relation to other available nuts. American sunflower seeds do not compete directly with locally produced sunflower seeds. They have their own market niche. There is a significant difference in quality when you compare U.S. confection sunflower seeds to locally produced sunflower seeds. The main consumers of American sunflower seeds tend to be in the middle and upper classes. They like the quality of U.S. seeds and are willing to pay a higher price for them.

Chinese sunflower seed roasters also prefer U.S. sunflower seed quality. They like seeds that are large, have dark black color and no scuffs on the shell. Roasters process sunflower seeds either by dry roasting or steaming them. The seeds are sold salted or seasoned with different flavors.

Sunflower seeds can be purchased in supermarkets, state-run stores, snack shops and "mom & pop" stores. Seeds can be purchased in retail packages in various sizes or bulk. Increasingly, consumers are purchasing snack foods in retail packages versus bulk. Primarily, sunflower seeds are consumed at home. Most of them are eaten while watching television, one seed at a time. This consumption pattern is similar to the Spanish market. The highest consumption periods are during social events and holidays, such as Chinese New Year.
Food is a very important social element in the Turkish culture. Traditional meals require hours to prepare and consume in the proper Turkish fashion. The pride of the Turkish kitchen is considered to be the freshness of the ingredients. This concern over freshness is carried into the consumer's decision in purchasing snack and nut products. For nuts or seeds, "freshness" is described as having a crisp shell and no stale odor.

Snack foods, including nuts, are consumed by 98% of the population. Sunflower seeds are the most popular item followed by pistachios and peanuts. Ninety percent of the population consumes sunflower seeds. They are sold by nut shops, street vendors, and small local shops and in supermarkets. Sunflower seeds are mainly purchased in nut shops and mainly in bulk rather than in individual packages.

Consumers have a positive attitude toward sunflower seeds and eat them because they like the taste and they are fun to eat. When they buy sunflower seeds, freshness is their biggest concern. Consumers prefer big, long and roasted sunflower seeds. Salt is not a major item, neither is price. Consumers prefer a darker colored all black seed, but accept stripes. Most of the consumers eat sunflower seeds at home, at night, while watching television.

Turkish consumers prefer U.S. confection sunflower seeds because of their consistent larger size. The kernel is bigger in the inside and the quality is superior to locally available product. Also, Turkish snack food manufacturers believe that American products provide a marketable factor for consumers. There is a desire in Turkey for things that are "Western." Three sunflower products use the names of Dakota, Nevada and Arizona to take advantage of this preference.
Europeans apparently first became acquainted with sunflower seeds in the 16th century, when Spanish explorers brought them to the continent from the Americas. Planted first in Spain for decoration, sunflower use gradually spread north and east through the rest of Europe. At the time, sunflower was seen more as a curiosity than a food or oil source and was often used for medicinal purposes.

Today, over half of Spanish consumers buy sunflower products, with the majority buying and eating roasted sunflower seeds. More females than males buy sunflower products, as do persons up to the age of 25. Sunflower seeds are consumed one seed at a time.

The most popular place for purchasing sunflower products is in confectionery stores. The main reason for buying sunflower products is for snacking purposes, and consumers eat them throughout the day. Spanish consumers like roasted sunflower seeds because of their taste and saltiness.

One of the most common times to eat sunflower seeds is during soccer matches. Previously, sunflower seeds were mainly consumed at home and in cinemas. Nowadays, sunflower seeds are also consumed in mass open-air events, like soccer. On Saturday or Sunday afternoons, soccer fans wearing the scarf and t-shirt of their team go to one of the many dried fruit kiosks, buy American sunflower seeds, get into the stadium and start cheering for their team. During the soccer season over 2,200 metric tons of sunflower seeds are consumed in soccer stadiums. This represents about 10% to 15% of all USA sunflower seed exports to Spain.
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