With Innovation at the Forefront, the California Walnut Industry Continues to Grow

Communicating to consumers that walnuts are a heart-smart food choice was at the forefront of the California Walnut Board’s fourth annual retail marketing program, centered around American Heart Month in February (all photos courtesy Walnut Board.)

In today’s world where brand and retailer pressures are high, time is short and customer choice is plentiful, the California Walnut Board (CWB) and the California Walnut Commission (CWC) aim to cultivate industry prosperity by increasing worldwide demand for California Walnuts. The ultimate goal? Make California Walnuts the worldwide nut of choice.

The CWB/CWC provide value by working together with growers and handlers to advance the California Walnut industry. The key areas that the Board and Commission focus on are building market demand domestically and internationally, providing industry resources to growers and handlers, and being a champion of the industry. In the midst of plentiful supply, marketing programs and initiatives continue to work diligently to protect and defend markets, all while building consumption globally.

From funding production research to launching innovative campaigns, to credit-back program authorization, the CWB/CWC works hand-in-hand with California walnut growers and handlers to move the industry forward.


Production Research

The CWB’s production research program includes very deliberate and thorough processes to ensure the short- and long-term needs of the industry are addressed. This means staying current on the challenges the industry is facing, reducing the cost of production and increasing walnut yields and quality. The CWB has funded research for more than 50 years in coordination with major universities/institutions, including the University of California, across more than 200 projects in key areas of interest to growers, including orchard management, entomology, breeding and genomics, and plant pathology and nematology.

The CWB provides funding for walnut production research designed to help support the industry by improving orchard health, yields and sustainability. In fact, the CWB has an endowment with UC Davis funding the breeding program that has developed new walnut varieties since 1992. The Chandler is one example of an outcome from this program, which now accounts for 60% of production.

In January 2021, UC Wolfskill, designed with industry challenges in mind, was also released through this program. UC Wolfskill benefits the grower by having an earlier-harvesting walnut to help spread the harvest season out as long and evenly as possible so that harvesting operations and immediate postharvest processes, such as hulling and dehydrating, can be spread out over a multitude of weeks.

It’s this longstanding relationship between UC Davis, the CWB and grower collaborators that creates varietals that address grower needs and alleviate challenges over time.

The California Walnut Board continues to foster a longstanding relationship with UC Davis and grower collaborators to create varietals that address grower needs and alleviate challenges over time.


Marketing Initiatives

The Board and Commission increase domestic and global demand for California Walnuts by keeping ahead of the latest trends and interests to provide short- and long-term growth opportunities with market conditions in mind. This knowledge of current challenges and strategic implementation ensure the CWB/CWC is proactively reaching new consumers and continuing to build demand for California Walnuts over time.

The ‘health-conscious consumer’ is a growing group, mindful of where and how they spend money, and health is, of course, a key benefit of walnuts. The CWB/CWC are focused on a variety of ways to showcase the health benefits of walnuts, which include sharing research around the benefits of a Mediterranean Diet, featuring walnuts and other nuts, and highlighting studies exploring the role of walnuts and their impact on cognition, gut health and weight management.

Some recent domestic and international initiatives and campaigns include:

American Heart Month

Communicating to consumers that walnuts are a heart-smart food choice was at the forefront of the CWB’s fourth annual retail marketing program, centered around American Heart Month in February. This year’s 2021 campaign saw participation from 34 retailers operating over 10,000 stores with 22.5% growth over the prior year among retailers that promoted walnuts in some way. These sales lifts are incremental to the initial growth that this national retail program drove in 2020.

Plant-Forward Eating

Pushing walnuts into new product categories and markets is imperative for growth, so the Board partnered with the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) to create the Have A Plant®: The Plant-Forward Eating Guide. The Guide is a first-of-its-kind framework which provides food industry professionals with insights, ideas and inspiration to encourage consumers to eat more fruits, vegetables and walnuts, and establishes definitions for the industry to adopt when it comes to “plant-based” and “plant-forward”. Innovative ideas, like walnut crumble (or walnut meat), and programs like these advance the California Walnut industry by ultimately putting walnuts in front of new consumers and building demand.

Walnuts at Work

The CWC actively works to encourage creative walnut usage in menu items and consumer packaged foods by educating and informing food professionals about the many uses of walnuts as well as inspiring innovation through new recipe and formulation ideas. The Commission launched its @CAWalnutsatwork food professional social channels on Facebook and Instagram last summer to further reach this audience. These social channels have helped drive initiatives such as ‘Walnuts at Work Live’ promotions with guest chefs and a partnership with an industry-leading publication, Plate Magazine. All of these programs help build demand for California Walnuts worldwide by staying engaged and top-of-mind with food professionals, utilizing the credibility of food influencers, and inspiring new usage opportunities.

Power of 3 Campaign

Building on the successful 2020 campaign, the CWC launched their second “Power of 3” global marketing campaign. Power of 3 was launched on March 3 in nine global markets at 3 p.m. local time and was celebrated in the U.S., Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the Middle East to showcase how each market incorporates its daily handful of walnuts in a variety of ways and to emphasize the rich essential plant-based omega-3 ALA content of walnuts (2.5 grams/ounce). This campaign was one of the many domestic and export marketing activities designed to expand California Walnuts use and consumption in existing markets.

In the past five years, combined domestic and export promotion programs by the California Walnut Board and Commission increased total revenue to the California Walnut industry by $485 million per year, on average, and each dollar spent returned $17.28 in total revenue.

Credit-Back Program

As well as executing its own domestic marketing campaigns to drive demand, the CWB proposed, and the growers approved, handler credit for market promotion authority in the marketing order. The program, which officially launched in April 2021, authorizes the Board to provide reimbursement of market promotion expenses paid by handlers due under the program. These amendments allow handlers to receive a reimbursement for eligible marketing expenditures of 70 cents for every dollar in spend up to a cap of Board budgeted program funds.

This important authority is one of the ways the CWB is modernizing the marketing order to make it work harder for the industry, using every possible tool available to spur new investment in advanced product development and marketing initiatives to continue growing walnut consumption and demand.


Economic Impact Report

All the above initiatives and programs from the Board and Commission aim to build sustained demand for California Walnuts as well as create new and innovative opportunities for short- and long-term growth. The CWB/CWC work alongside growers and handlers to cultivate industry prosperity, from research to marketing. The Board and Commission continually evaluate their programs through direct research with target audiences, robust oversight via advisory panels, USDA, CDFA and independent third-party analysis.

Having a balanced portfolio of domestic and international programs is essential to ensuring the health of the industry, making sure all market demands are met. In fact, a recent independent economic analysis of marketing programs from 2015-19 by Harry M. Kaiser, Cornell University, found domestic advertising and promotion generated a return on investment (ROI) of 14:1 and international programs an ROI of 25:1. In the past five years, combined domestic and export promotion programs by the CWB/CWC increased total revenue to the California Walnut industry by $485 million per year, on average, and each dollar spent returned $17.28 in total revenue.

The Board and Commission work together with growers and handlers to advance the collective goals of the California Walnut industry.


Together, We Grow

Together with growers and handlers, the CWB/CWC are working to help protect, develop and grow the California Walnut industry. For more information on the initiatives discussed in this article and to learn more about how the Board and Commission builds demand for California Walnuts, visit walnuts.org/walnut-industry and follow the CWB on Facebook and Twitter @GrowCAWalnuts.