The almond industry has a story to tell, and Clarice Turner wants to help tell it. The new Almond Board of California (ABC) president and CEO was hired this past summer to replace Richard Waycott, who announced he would step away at the end of 2023 to pursue other interests but remain on to help ensure a smooth transition.
Turner joins the organization during a challenging time for the industry when supply chain disruptions, trade tariffs, regulatory constraints and several other factors are driving record low prices for almonds. She wrapped up a multi-city California listening session tour in late October to address some of those issues and familiarize herself more with industry stakeholders through one-on-one, candid conversations.
At a stop in Modesto, Calif. on October 25, Turner told those who turned out to meet her she had been enjoying spending time out in the orchards, meeting with growers, processors and shellers, and had come to have tremendous respect for what they do every day.
A ninth-generation Californian, Turner’s ag roots go back to her childhood when she spent summers on her aunt and uncle’s peach and nectarine farm in Riverbank, Calif. where she helped operate a small farmstand with her cousins. Her dad, she said, grew up poor, knocking almonds with his cousins to earn money, but he always shared fond stories about working hard in the orchards.
Turner brings with her an extensive background in consumer goods, food service and wine and spirits, having worked for companies like Boudin Bakery, Starbucks Coffee Company, YUM! Brands, Papa Murphy’s International and PepsiCo. Most recently, she was the president of Napa Valley winery Joseph Phelps Vineyards.
At the Modesto event, Turner said she was worried about California agriculture and sees her new role as an opportunity to make a difference.
“At this stage in my career, I only spend time on things that I’m passionate about and I care about, so when the call came, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s an opportunity to really make a difference on behalf of an industry I care deeply about,’” she said of making the move to ABC.
Addressing the Challenges
Calling the almond industry a global success story like no other, Turner said she sees tremendous opportunity to take it into the next chapter.
“We’ve got to innovate, we have to think about doing things differently, not everything, but some things,” she said. “What I see is that there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation.”
In a recent Deloitte research study commissioned by ABC, Turner said it highlighted areas of focus for markets in the future, such as India, Indonesia and Turkey.
She also addressed the need for finding more opportunities to market almond inclusions.
“I think there’s a lot more room to expand and get almonds into more products,” she said.
Another area of focus, Turner said, needs to be on setting the record straight about the environmental impact of almonds, with consumers often equating an almond with the gallon of water required to grow it.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, she said.
“We could have such a positive environmental story today without doing one thing differently because we’re producing four things with that gallon of water, including an orchard that sequesters 60% more carbon in the atmosphere as the same amount of forest,” Turner said. “We have to tell that story because if people feel guilty for eating almonds, it’s going to hurt demand.”
Smoothing out pricing and demand is another area that needs attention, she explained, and said that by increasing some of the supply chains that the industry provides almonds to, like consumer packaged goods (CPG) and food service, it could provide more stability over time.
“Whether it’s the U.S. or the EU, where eventually we teach India, Japan or other countries how to further process almonds and get them into more of the mainstream of their diet, their schools, that then starts to pull out a certain percentage of our crop that’s much more stable,” she said.
Stakeholders Weigh In
During a Q&A at the Modesto listening session, attendees had the opportunity to gain further insight into Turner’s goals as well as to share their own concerns with her and the ABC Board of Directors. Some of those concerns addressed food security, consumer pricing control, crop insurance and bee hive research among others.
Overall, attendees at the Modesto event seemed hopeful about the fresh perspectives that Turner might bring to the organization.
Tommy Tickenoff, founding partner of Fresh Vintage Farms in Turlock, Calif., makes pressed artisan oils from tree nuts sourced in the Central Valley. He said he’s especially excited to see what Turner might bring to the area of CPG.
“I think at this time in the industry, we need to see a little bit more of a push toward consumer products and innovations,” Tickenoff said. “I think her experience in the space working with food scientists and things of that nature should be a positive move.”
Tickenoff says the industry has done a great job of educating the public on the nutritious value of almonds and believes Turner will be able to make a similar push in some of those other areas.
“We have a lot of room to grow in getting some of that message out,” he said. “I think a new voice is going to be able to knock on some doors.”
Di Lauresma was just hoping to learn more about Turner at the Modesto event and said she was especially excited about having a female CEO leading a heavily male-dominated industry.
“I think the thinktanks and the detail people and the nutritionists and the marketers are primarily female,” she said, noting she has a background in marketing herself. “So, I’m all about marketing new products, innovation and growing this domestic market.”
Lauresma said she’s hoping to see a greater focus on educating consumers about products made from almonds like the almond butter she produces, Almondee Almond Butter. She sells her product at local stores in Northern California and on Amazon and touts it as the “Godiva” of almond butters, a nod to the well-known Belgian chocolate, because she says it tastes that good. But she thinks consumers are often reluctant to buy a product like almond butter, regardless of how delicious it is, if they don’t know anything about it.
Contending with name brand peanut butters like Skippy, Lauresma says sampling her almond butter in stores to make that connection with consumers is key.
“The kids love it, they lick it off the cracker or the apple,” she said. “If I can get it in their mouth, I will sell out.”