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TNFP0416-CalWalnuts-pandemic_BT_edits.jpg California Walnuts
Walnuts grow in an orchard in the northern Sacramento Valley.

Pandemic aids popularity of walnuts

Shelter-in-place orders lead to an increase in retail sales.

A pandemic brings little in the way of good, but there have been some positives noted by those who grow tree nuts for a living, especially those who specialize in walnuts.

“They’re so much more than just nuts to bake with,” says Jennifer Olmstead, domestic marketing director for the California Walnut Board and Commission. “While we’ve seen a surge in nut sales for baking, tree nut sales in general have risen and walnuts are a particularly bright spot with strong sales since shelter-in-place orders were issued. We’ve been seeing a lot higher retail sales over the last five months than in previous, normal, years.”

Retail sales make up an estimated 60% of domestic walnut sales and second quarter 2020 retail sales showed a nearly 17% increase over the previous year. Year-to-date overall retail sales are up 4% with grocery store sales increasing by 10%.

In recently-released USDA-NASS statistics, sales of walnut trees to growers amounted to 13,050 acres for the 2019 crop year with the Seedlings variety representing the majority of sales (an estimated 7,000 acres) followed by the Chandler variety (estimated acreage at slightly over 5,000 acres). California’s 2019 walnut acreage is estimated at 440,000 acres (365,000 bearing acres), a 10% increase from previous numbers.

Snacking up across the board

Nut snacking numbers are up across the board and the California Walnut Board and Commission hopes to raise its sector consumption even further with retail marketing efforts to come that will outline the health aspects.

In a recent survey of consumers, 98% of them admitted to eating snacks and one third of the respondents said those snacks brought comfort since the sheltering-in-place mandate. The survey noted: “In the new normal in which we’re now living, snacking behaviors have changed and one in two Americans admit to snacking more now than before the pandemic began. And many (2 out of 5) don’t see their snacking behaviors scaled back as mandates might be lifted.”

 “We’re finalizing promotions right now to release snacking ads this fall with the hopes of doing an even bigger snacking promotional campaign in 2021,” says Olmstead.

“We’re not sitting still,” she says. “We pivoted with the arrival of the coronavirus and will soon launch promotions with Amazon InstaCart, Kroger, Albertsons, and Safeway to increase sales at a time when people are shopping online at record levels.”

Numerical projections jive with positive grower outlooks indicating a good harvest this year.  “The outlook right now is positive and the just-released CASS (California Agricultural Statistics Service) report numbers are indicative of the fact that our crop is going to continue to grow," she says.

Because of an increased demand for walnuts as a snack, new product introductions are being made.

“Seasoned walnut products are appearing along with butters and walnut milk,” Olmstead says. “And companies are launching snack products that include walnuts, like a fruit/granola/honey-roasted walnut package. It’s encouraging to see walnuts, instead of other types of nuts, being used in those products. There’s a lot of creativity going into this kind of thinking because there’s a growing interest in using healthy walnuts and plant-based eating in general. We’re seeing early industry development of using walnuts in lieu of ground beef product because of their texture, richness, and fat profile.”

For more news on tree nuts as reported by growers and farm advisors, subscribe to the Tree Nut Farm Press e-newsletter.

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