Walnut production is booming, but so are exports: that’s the view from the California Walnut Board, which is dedicated to finding new markets for walnuts.
“As you can see global production has doubled in the last ten years, and demand remains strong,” said Claire Lee, Assistant Marketing Director for the walnut board at a presentation for growers. “Although China produces the most walnuts, they're not the leader in world trade, that's the U.S. at 67%.”
The reason for why the U.S. leads in walnut global trade? China consumes most of the walnuts they produce.
Meanwhile, the California Walnut Board is carefully targeting countries that may grow even more in their walnut consumption.
In the U.K. that might mean spending on a print ad, in Germany it may mean a website banner, and Lee also showed an animated online banner for Indian markets of a walnut saying "roast me."
In Turkey, ads are targeting moms, Lee said, with a familiar pitch that Americans know pretty well by now: educating them on the health benefits for their kids.
At its best, Walnut Board marketing efforts can result in huge, coordinated events in foreign countries: for example, Korea, where Dunkin’ Donuts made special walnut donuts for high school students taking standardized tests like the SAT, Lee said.
“Each one of these donuts contains 9% walnuts, and there are 760 Dunkin' Donuts in Korea alone,” Lee said. “At the top it (told students) ‘Do not fail’ ...people gave them to as gifts to students taking the test.”
One major tactic the walnut board uses is educating doctors and medical professionals, who have credibility when they recommend healthy foods to patients.
“As we know, health sells walnuts,” Lee said. “It's very important for us to create awareness of the health benefits of walnuts, and we do that with our PR activities.
Sponsored events include medical conferences like a nurses’ conference in Spain, a diabetes congress in Turkey, and a seminar for British dieticians.
On the other end of the credibility spectrum from people who are trusted by consumers is people who are well-liked: that means Snapchat and Instagram stars and bloggers with big followings. The Walnut Board invites those influencers to California to visit orchards and experience fun walnut activities.
“We choose these bloggers, we choose this community, based on their popularity,” Lee said. “It's very important that they think of us before they do their next (post).”
“Having these activities is very important to have demand keep up with supply,” Lee told growers.
On the supply side, Lee said walnut bearing acreage is increasing by about 10,000 acres per year.
“We have more non-bearing acres than we did ten years ago, and that just sets us up for more growth to come,” Lee said.
So what could be the next big thing to market walnuts?
“We're looking for new segments--we're looking at halal certification,” Lee said, referring to the dietary guidelines for Muslims.
“Currently the Muslim population of the world is 1.8 billion.”