Exclusive interview: Q&A with Royal Hawaiian Orchards
A few weeks ago, Royal Hawaiian Orchards CEO Scott Wallace gained FDA approval to claim that macadamia nuts can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The win marked a historic moment in the natural products industry as manufacturers innovate with nut-based products—enabling them to expand macadamia-made options to milks, butters, snacks, and more.
We recently talked with Wallace about the two-year process it took to gain FDA approval for the nut, as well as the products that Royal Hawaiian Orchards currently offer.
Liz Parker: It took 2 years to gain FDA approval for macadamia nuts. Why did it take so long, and what were some challenges along the way?
Scott Wallace: The FDA’s point of view on fat in a person’s diet has evolved from a low-fat focus in the 1990s to a more “balanced” view of fat in diet today. The FDA first recognized that poly- and mono-unsaturated fats could be helpful in managing health. It has also only been a few years since the FDA has started to accept saturated fat as a beneficial part of a person’s diet—or at least not harmful. Macadamia nuts (like olive oil) do contain some saturated fat which was the major challenge in getting a claim approved. The approval process involved summarizing the nutritional data for macadamia nuts, having research done showing that consuming macadamia nuts could be beneficial for your health and proposing a preliminary proposed health claim. Once the FDA stated it was agreeable to the idea, existing research was gathered and written into a health claim petition, which was then peer reviewed and submitted to FDA. It was a long process because the FDA is busy with a number of important initiatives.
LP: What are some other benefits to eating macadamia nuts, other than reducing the risk of coronary heart disease?
SW: Macadamia nuts are a good source of energy—100 grams of nuts provide about 718 calories, which is one of the highest calorific values for seeds and kernels. One-hundred grams of macadamias also provides 8.6 grams, or 23 percent, of daily recommended levels of dietary fiber. They are an excellent source of phytosterols such as ß-sitosterol, and they carry no cholesterol. Macadamia nuts are a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) like oleic acid (18:1) and palmitoleic acids (16:1). Studies suggest that MUF fats in the diet help lower total cholesterol as well as LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood. In the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fiber, MUF fats and antioxidants work favorably in maintaining healthy blood lipid profile and thus offer protection from coronary artery disease and strokes. Macadamias are an excellent source of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc. One-hundred grams of nuts provide 3.6 µg of selenium, which is a cardio-protective trace element and an essential antioxidant cofactor for the glutathione peroxidase enzyme. Furthermore, macadamias are also rich in many important B-complex vitamins that are vital for metabolic functions. One-hundred grams of nuts provide 15 percent of niacin, 21 percent of pyridoxine (vitamin B6), 100% of thiamin and 12 percent of riboflavin. They contain small amounts of vitamin A and vitamin E. These fat-soluble vitamins are potent antioxidants and help protect cell membranes and DNA damage from harmful oxygen-free radicals.
LP: When was Royal Hawaiian Orchards started, and what kind of macadamia nut products do you offer?
SW: Royal Hawaiian Orchards was founded in 1948. We offer Roasted Macadamias (Natural, Sea Slat, Maui Onion, Hawaiian BBQ, Wasabi & Soy, Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper), Fruit & Macadamia Crunches (Mango Pineapple, Kona Coffee Banana, Mauka Blueberry Pomegranate), Dark Chocolate Macadamias (Blackberry Goji, Blueberry Acai, Pomegranate Mango), Macadamia Nut Milk (Original Unsweetened, Vanilla Unsweetened) and Macadamia Nut Butter.
LP: How long did it take to get your products to become Non-GMO Project Verified?
SW: Non-GMO Product Verification took about three to four months.
LP: Are your products distributed nationally as of yet, or is it more regional?
SW: Royal Hawaiian Orchards foods are available in approximately 20,000 grocery and natural stores nationwide, and approximately 10,000 convenience stores, club stores and gift shops.