UK consumption of California walnuts has grown by a whopping five-fold over the last year. However, there is still plenty of room for growth as the UK’s annual per capita consumption of walnuts is still only 0.136kg.

With demand for healthy, nutritious food increasing, Britain was Europe’s fifth largest importer of walnuts last crop season.

Pam Graviet, Senior Marketing Director, International, at California Walnuts, tells Wholesale Manager what are the latest global trends in the walnut market.

How are California walnuts performing in the UK?

Since 2011, California walnut consumption has grown almost five-fold in the UK and last year alone, the CWC saw shipments increase by 24% as consumers recognize their health benefits, quality, and versatility in desserts, breads, sauces, spreads and even as a minced meat replacement for those looking for a more plant-forward way of eating.

Are shipments to the UK being adversely affected by worldwide shipping issues?

California walnuts, like almost every commodity, has felt the challenges of ongoing supply chain disruptions with shipments through March down by more than 30%. West Coast ports have been in the news as imports from Asia continue to flow, but many containers leave empty causing shipment delays for orders in process. Despite these challenges, the California walnut industry’s handlers are working diligently to secure containers and shipping dates to meet the needs of growing demand in the UK.

Why is the UK an important market for California walnuts?

While walnuts are familiar to UK consumers, annual per capita consumption is still very low at 0.136kg, so there’s tremendous opportunity for growth. Last crop season, the UK was the fifth largest importer of walnuts in Europe and the demand for healthy, nutritious food is increasing. Walnuts can play a role in offering a nutrient-dense, flavourful addition to the daily diet which aligns with consumer’s desire to eat not only nutritious foods, but ones that also offer functional health benefits.

How has global supply and demand for California walnuts developed over the past year?

Last year, the more than 4,500 walnut growers, many of them multi-generational family farms, produced a record-setting crop reaching 712,140MT, a 20% growth over the previous year. Even with COVID-induced lockdowns and shipping challenges, almost the entire year’s production was sold and shipped before this year’s harvest as consumer demand for wholesome, delicious foods, such as walnuts, increased.

Which countries have increased/reduced their walnut production and how is California dealing with the competition?

According to data from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, China, which harvests at the same time as California, along with Chile have seen significant growth in walnut production over the past few years in addition to some moderate growth in several other countries. Chile, being a southern hemisphere producer, is contra-seasonal to the California crop. While walnuts are available from many parts of the world, California walnuts are grown, harvested and processed under stringent state and federal regulations, reputed to be the world’s toughest. Handlers also meet individual customers’ standards and specifications. A food safety control program and quality control regime (HAACP) is in place that meets the standards imposed by all regulatory authorities. As a result, the California walnut industry has had an impeccable food safety record for more than a century and delivers high-quality walnuts year-round year after year.

With bigger and bigger crops in the future, how is CWC planning to sell these larger crops worldwide?

Consumer demand continues to increase as more people discover the wide range of health benefits walnuts offer and global walnut consumption is extremely low. Statistics from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council (INC) show that in the top 20 walnut-consuming countries tracked by the INC, global annual consumption per capita is only 0.132 kgs, indicating tremendous room for growth. The CWC will continue its educational efforts, at both the consumer and trade levels demonstrating how this nutritious nut can be used in so many different ways and types of cuisines.

What trends are you seeing globally with walnuts?

In Asia, new innovations with walnuts can be found in the bakery sector not just in sweet offerings, but in daily and artisan breads. With snacking being the primary way people around the globe eat walnuts, there has been the introduction of a wide range of flavoured walnuts, in Asia as well as the USA, including onion, corn soup, whisky spiced, barbeque, garlic parmesan, maple cinnamon, oatmeal cookie and even strawberry to name a few. We’re also starting to see some plant-based innovation in Europe and the USA using walnuts as a meat replacement in sausages, burgers, bolognaise, tacos, lettuce wraps and as a pizza topping. Consumers around the globe are looking for foods that help them improve and maintain their overall health and wellness. Additionally, many consumers are moving towards a more plant-forward diet. California walnuts tick both boxes as there’s more than 30 years of scientific health research demonstrating the several health benefits of walnuts and walnuts have the meaty texture and healthy fats that can be satisfying and literally transformed with the use of spices, complementary ingredients and cooking methods.

What’s the latest developments from California walnuts in terms of investments, new growing technology etc?

For more than 50 years, the California walnut industry has invested over $20 million in production research in the areas of orchard management, entomology, breeding and genomics, and plant pathology and nematology. This research has resulted in new varieties, developed through traditional cross breeding techniques used for centuries, as well as more efficient orchard maintenance and use of natural resources.

How do California walnuts fit with the growing trends in plant-based eating?

Walnuts are a must-have if choosing a plant-forward diet including restaurant menus and ready-to-eat products. They have a soft meaty texture that easily absorbs the flavours of other ingredients. Nutritionally, walnuts are unique among nuts as they are primarily comprised of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They are the only tree nut to contain a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid, at 2.7g per 30g serving, that human bodies need but can only get from food. 30 grams of walnuts (a handful) offers 4.4 grams of protein and 1.4 grams of fibre in addition to a variety of micronutrients and antioxidants. Walnuts are also a heart-healthy food as recognized by Heart UK and have an EU qualified health claim.

How sustainable is the California walnut industry?

California walnut growers and processors (handlers) have spent more than a century caring for the land, sharing a commitment to public health, and supporting the communities we serve. California walnut growers and processors support research and innovation in water quality and conservation; soil health; energy use; and air quality. We constantly seek out and incorporate new methods of growing and handling walnuts that minimize waste, enhance productivity, and preserve and protect natural resources. We balance our use of natural resources by producing a nutrient-dense whole food that improves human health.

For further information please contact California Walnut Commission via email at walnuts@comeintothegarden.co.uk

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