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California walnut market is concerning as the season commences

The 2017 California walnut season is going to be a challenging one for growers/processors and customers alike as yields look to drop after recent good years. Weather is to blame for the primary impact on California production as well as other regions of the world.

"It's going to be a unique year in our growing region," said Michael Manser, of Grower Direct Nut Company in California. "We began with a wet spring followed by extreme summer heat with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, which can be detrimental to our crop. Industry experts from around the world are predicting that tonnage will be down from earlier estimates as well. In recent years we experienced double digit growth, but this year we anticipate yield to be down by as much as 10%."

Growers await quantities to determine full effect
Customers that have been accustomed to plentiful supply in the last few years will now be concerned about the possibility of a decline in walnut availability. As the season progresses growers will have more insight as to how the weather has directly impacted them.

“The early varieties including Tulare’s seem to have made it through the summer, but are exhibiting some signs of stress,” Manser continued. "It's still too early to be able to access our main crop until we get through the Tulare’s, Chandlers, Hartley’s and Howards along with the other varieties continuing through November. We are yet to determine what the full effect will be to our crop and customers. On top of the problems in the Californian region, the news is not good in other regions of the world. In Ukraine, they are reporting reduced yields, as well as France and other EU countries. The Chinese have been making inquiries into our stock too, perhaps indicating supply issues there too."

"As a Grower/Processor we will have to be methodical and carefully manage our inventory levels to ensure our customers receive their product for their business needs," he added. "Our top priority will be to supply them with the highest quality product they need in order to continue to run their businesses successfully. Buyers looking to break into the walnut market for the first time, especially those selling in-shell varieties, are going to face some risk and may have trouble sourcing them with the way the market is headed and will probably end up paying a higher price for them compared to years past. As it stands, the premium category of the light colored (Chandlers) are attracting a price of up to $3.75 lb. If supply does indeed get tight, that figure will likely escalate."

New products in the works
As the number of customers looking for healthy alternatives continues to increase, growers and processors look for new ways to present their products in unique and creative ways. More specifically, nut companies are looking to tackle the issues of food safety and allergens in tree nut products with innovation and research being done to reduce concerns of allergens in products coming to the market. 

Grower Direct has recently validated their Dry Steam treatment system that provides walnuts, almonds and other tree nuts with a five log kill of micro-organisms. A few others are providing the service. “We see this as the safest method and allows for the product to maintain their organic certification while not reducing shelf life," said Manser. "This method has also been said to improve the taste of our walnuts by eliminating the bitterness related to the walnuts which assists to achieve a better tasting nut”. 

Grower Direct facilities

"Our mission and focus is to create a market for customers to learn the health benefits as well as the delicious snacking options that walnuts offer," he added. "We are driving the inclusion of walnuts into everyday consumption through snack sizes with products like fruit, cheese and trail mixes. We have launched a flavored walnut line to include butters, dips and unique flavors that do not hide the healthy proponents of walnuts. This way consumers new and old can be reintroduced to walnuts in a way that makes our product become a staple in the kitchen. Other products like walnut and cashew milk along with nut butters are making an appearance in the industry, driven by health conscious buyers and those with certain allergies."

"We are participating in the study and research of walnuts being edible for people with nut sensitivity and allergies,” continued Manser. “There is research and product testing for a new category of nuts called sprouting which includes almond and walnuts to date. It involves soaking the nut in water to cause germination. It's a timely process and for walnuts, this is done in-shell because the male and female halves need to be together for it to occur. After it begins to sprout microscopically, the process is stopped, the walnuts are dried and then used as normal. Early research has shown that for some reason, those with high-risk allergies are able to digest the nut without extreme risk. Those with digestive issues relating to nuts have found that sprouted nuts are digestible without limitation. There is more research to be done, but I see big potential in the process and market, like the organic category for example.”

For more information: 
Michael Manser
Grower Direct Nut Company
Tel: 209-448-6127

Publication date: 10/4/2017
Author: Dennis M. Rettke
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


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