Good news for those in the UK who enjoy seeing California walnuts in stores: the 2023 crop is one of the best in memory for growers who have been in business for 40 years.
Robert Verloop, CEO, of the California Walnut Commission, talked up the amazing results at the recent the Global Produce & Floral Show in Anaheim, Calif., which coincided with the harvests from late August or early September through November.
“[We’ve] never seen it this good,” Verloop says. “Our quality is exceptional. The color, which is really important for walnuts, is what we call ‘very light to light.’ We have very little discoloration.”
That positive update comes on the heels of a 2022 crop that was “affected by the heat wave where a lot of our colors were much darker, and so it didn’t have the same appeal for the international markets, Verloop says. ”Our quality this this year so much better. We think we’re going to have very stable pricing and this product has got incredible shelf life. So, we’re very optimistic at the moment.”
With 65% of walnuts being exported to offshore markets such as the UK, Spain, Gemany and India – there can sometimes be uneasiness and uncertainty during this pivotal time. That not only includes quality of product but potential supply chain issues that throw up additional barriers.
“ For a very long-time international trade tariffs have created walnut exporting challenges,” Verloop says. “With a permanent crop such as walnuts, there is a long-term investment on the production side but also with the trade and consumers. We plant our trees in anticipation that key markets remain open to fair and free trade and build trust and confidence by providing premium quality walnuts that are healthy and taste great.”
So what’s new with walnuts?
“There’s a lot of new storage technology that’s coming out that helps preserve that that freshness that we want on a year-round basis,” Verloop says. “[That includes] vacuum sealing or nitrogen flushing and then there’s some new controlled atmosphere out there that is helping expand that taste life so that walnut flavor is unique all the way through the cycle.” The key to preserving their unique woodsy, creamy, buttery flavor is to ship and store walnuts below 60 degrees F.
On the commercial front, the Commission helps retailers and foodservice operators, and food manufacturers and ingredient buyers boost consumption by developing consumer focused sales promotions, with an increased presence in the produce department (#WalnutsAreProduceToo), on restaurant menus and in new product innovations. Consumers have responded to promotional campaigns focused on health, versatility and new products and packaging options that make it easier to enjoy walnuts on the go and all year round.
“We’re also in the process, whether it’s internationally or domestically, of getting people to understand that walnuts are much more than just for baking,” Verloop says, hinting that walnuts as a fresh snack is being promoted through different package sizes.
He notes that 20 years ago, 75% of California’s walnuts were sold in-shell, but now “it’s the opposite. Twenty-five percent, or less, is now sold in-shell.”
Still, he says in-shell is important with good demand through December. Then the shift is to kernels, or shelled, product.