More than 99% of U.S. walnuts are cultivated in the soils of California’s Central Valley, according to the California Walnut Board. On a global scale, California walnuts contribute to approximately half of the world’s walnut trade, highlighting their significant role in the international walnut market. Walnuts are harvested in the fall, normally from mid-September to early November, according to the University of California, Davis.
California is set to produce 790,000 tons of walnuts in 2023, a 5% increase from the previous year. Retailers can enhance sales by leveraging holiday seasons, cross-merchandising and emphasizing their nutritional benefits, storage and snacking appeal, among other things. Here are some statistics you wal-nut want to miss.
By employing scientific methods, United States Department of Agriculture field staff conducted a comprehensive assessment in the major walnut-growing areas during July and August. They systematically counted, measured, weighed and assessed thousands of walnuts. These data were then integrated into a statistical acreage model to determine the annual walnut crop estimate. In 2023, California’s walnut production is anticipated to reach 790,000 tons, marking a 5% increase compared to the 752,000 tons produced in 2022, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2023 California Walnut Objective Measurement Report. This forecast is based on 385,000 bearing acres, which represents a 4% decrease from the estimated 400,000 bearing acres in 2022.
The study was conducted using 675 blocks with two sample trees per block. Data revealed an average nut set per tree of 1,004, a 2% increase from the 2022 average of 981. Statewide, 99.2% of in-shell kernels were sound, with the average in-shell weight measuring 21.5 grams. Favorable conditions, including sufficient chill hours from cold winter temperatures and adequate soil moisture restoration due to a wet winter and spring, have contributed to improved nut quality. However, growers statewide grappled with high production costs. Statistical models incorporated estimated nut sets, sizing measurements, average tree density per acre and estimated bearing acreage to generate these projections. Preliminary figures indicate last year’s crop is virtually sold out.
“Last year, we were facing a completely different scenario with 130,000 tons in inventory brought on by the lingering effects of the COVID-impacted global marketplace and a record heat wave last September that negatively impacted the entire crop, which led to lethargic sales and record-low grower returns,” said Robert Verloop, CEO and Executive Director for the California Walnut Commission and Board, in a statement.
“With minimal carryover from the previous crop year and favorable weather throughout the growing season, we’re optimistic about the new crop year,” stated Tim Sabado, CEO of Prima Noce, based in Linden, California. “The upcoming crop promises a return to the exceptional quality that defines California walnuts globally.” International shipments of inshell walnuts to various destinations began in October. Meanwhile, in the United States and Canada, retail customers are actively placing orders and creating sales strategies for their traditional, extensive holiday promotions. They’re also preparing for health-focused marketing campaigns centered around walnut kernels in January and February.
How to promote walnuts
Promotion plays a pivotal role in maximizing sales of walnuts, which are not only delicious and nutritious, but also hold substantial profit potential for retailers. To achieve this, consider the following practices as recommended by the California Walnut Board:
- Cross-merchandising: Boost sales by pairing walnuts with other food categories, such as dairy, fresh and frozen meats, deli, fruit, vegetables, baking and center store (cereal, pasta, grains, rice, spices and seasonings), enhancing shoppers’ experience and driving incremental purchases.
- Holiday sales: Leverage the holiday season, as it’s the peak buying period for walnuts. Display walnuts prominently to encourage impulse purchases.
- Off-shelf displays: Utilize off-shelf displays to attract shoppers’ attention and prompt unplanned purchases. While most walnut sales are planned, consumers are inclined to make impulse purchases when presented with the opportunity.
- Informative signage: Use signs, posters and display header cards to communicate the nutritional benefits of walnuts. Incorporate appealing recipe images to grab extra attention and stimulate sales.
- Usage ideas: Drive additional sales by suggesting creative uses, like Walnut “Chorizo” Tacos or Maple Walnut Energy Balls. Recipes can be found at walnuts.org/recipes.
- Snacking appeal: Highlight the growth of walnut snacking, positioning walnuts as the primary choice for snacking. Display them outside the baking aisle, offering suggestions like pairing walnuts with fresh berries or creating DIY trail mix with walnuts.
- Nutrition and education: Emphasize walnuts’ nutritional benefits through shelf labels, displays and feature advertisements. Highlight the unique aspect that walnuts are the sole nut with essential omega-3 ALA (2.5g/oz). Retail dietitians can play a crucial role in advocating for these nutritional benefits.
- Social media: Utilize social media to effectively communicate walnuts’ nutritional advantages and share innovative recipe ideas. Download the social media toolkit for posts, recipe images, videos and more. Additionally, find resources for retail, here, including the California Walnuts Retail RD Toolkit here.
- Proper storage: Educate consumers on the significance of storing walnuts properly, given their high omega-3 ALA content. Recommend keeping walnuts in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer if they won’t be used within 30 days.
- Maintaining freshness: Stress the importance of refrigerating or freezing walnuts to preserve their freshness, ensuring higher satisfaction and repeat purchases.