On August 28, USDA NASS released the Objective Measurement of the 2020 walnut crop, estimating production at 780,000 short tons, an increase of 19 percent over the prior year. “The industry has been expecting increases given continued growth in new acreage, more densely planted orchards, and heavier yielding varieties and has planned accordingly,” states grower Robert Driver, CWB board member.

“To take advantage of the large crop and continued demand, tremendous growth opportunity exists in the U.S. market to expand the walnut business in the retail channel,” said Michelle Connelly, executive director of the California Walnut Board (CWB). The California Walnut Board has dedicated significant resources to the domestic retail effort for the 2020/21 crop year. “Efforts are underway to encourage greater support from food retailers through two national promotional campaigns, American Heart Month and a program focused on growing snacking usage. While walnuts are not often thought of as a snack, our consumers are telling us otherwise with snacking becoming the top consumer use.[1] Our goal is to make walnuts top-of-mind, not only for consumers, but for retailers and product manufacturers as well,” says Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director, Domestic PR at the CWB.

To support expanded grocery presence, California Walnuts recently developed a new section on walnuts.org devoted specifically to retailers, buyers, retail dietitians and others in the retail industry. California Walnuts is invested in supporting their retail partners and created this section to make it easy to find information and materials specifically tailored to retail needs, along with regularly updated industry and product news, trends and more. The new online hub for retailers can be found at walnuts.org/retail, featuring shopper insights, promotion best practices, demo-friendly recipes, merchandising and point-of-sale materials.

Retailers and consumers are increasingly embracing e-commerce and opening new avenues for retail promotion. In response to the changing shopping habits of consumers, we have shifted more resources towards innovative digital programs reaching online shoppers and influencer campaigns. “We are excited to reach shoppers in new ways this season, and we will remain nimble as the retail landscape changes,” adds Don Ladhoff, retail program coordinator for the CWB. “We will also amplify our messaging around storing walnuts in the refrigerator and/or freezer to maximize shelf life as shoppers look to reduce waste while stocking their homes with nutritious foods.”

The California Walnut Board anticipates that numerous national and regional food retailers will participate in this year’s American Heart Month (February) and snacking (July) programs, implementing promotional elements including in-store display, circular and digital advertising as well as integration with retail RD programs. To take full advantage of the large crop, California Walnuts is supporting the two programs with a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. Participating retailers will be able to take advantage of the added media and promotional support with retailer-tagged advertisements.

Recent months have seen an increase in walnut sales in the retail segment with consumers both cooking and baking more often as well as looking for foods that support overall wellness. From February 24 through August 9, overall walnut retail sales volumes were up 16.8 percent over 2019. Grocery alone performed even better, with volume increases 25.9 percent during that time.[2] “Not only are walnuts a versatile ingredient that can’t be overlooked, they are a powerhouse of nutrition—offering essential ALA omega-3 (2.5g/oz.), and plant-based protein (4g/oz.)—with benefits that are critical to consumers who are seeking healthy, clean, nutritious foods now more than ever,” Olmstead states. The industry’s investment in nutrition research continues to identify how walnuts may play a role in consumer public health issues like gut health, sleep quality, mental health and obesity[3].

“This year’s expected record crop comes on the heels of strong retail sales, with shoppers’ growing interest in consuming foods with both great taste and functional benefits. In fact, the industry has stepped up to meet consumer demand with exciting new product launches in recent years.  And this season, the CWB’s unprecedented investment in domestic retail promotion will set the stage for continued success,” states Jack Mariani, CWB Market Development Committee Chairperson. Walnut production has doubled in the last 15 years, with new acreage reaching 380,000 with an additional 75,000 acres set to come into production over the next 5 years. California walnut growers’ investment in future production will allow more consumers worldwide to enjoy the benefits of consuming walnuts. 

[1] 70 percent of consumers use walnuts as a snack. 2019 Rose Research U.S. Attitude & Usage Study.

[2] IRI; grocery segment excludes drug stores, mass merchandisers, Walmart, BJ’s Sam’s Club, dollar stores and military commissaries

[3] 2020 IFIC Food & Health Survey