As we arrive at a new understanding of the food ingredients that contribute positive benefits to our health, consumers are gaining a new appreciation of California walnuts.

“Omega-3s cannot be made in the body,” says Pam Graviet, senior marketing director international of the California Walnut Commission (CWC), “so they need to come from our food.”

CWC represents the 4,800 plus growers and close to 100 handlers who make up the California walnut industry. Established in 1987, the CWC is mainly involved in health research and export market development activities. More than 99% of the walnuts produced in the US are grown in the fertile soils of California and California walnuts supply close to two thirds of the world’s walnut trade. The industry supports some 85,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

Lifting the lid on omega-3

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) ALA is found in plant-based foods, such as walnuts, flaxseed, soybean oil and canola oil. EPA and DHA are found in fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel, and trout.

“The California Walnut Commission is continually talking to the trade about the benefits of walnuts, a rich source of plant-based omega-3 ALA at 2.7g per 30g serving – the most ALA of any other tree nut,” says Peter Meadows, director of The Garden Marketing & PR, the UK trade representative for California Walnuts. “We are in close contact with the trade, as well as running a trade advertising and editorial programme. In a normal situation we also attend food shows.”

For consumers wanting to stay healthy in the current uncertain climate, California Walnuts’ rich omega-3 content offers a powerful value proposition for overall health and wellness. Research by insights agency Buzzback, carried out in 2020 prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, highlights that US and UK consumers are interested in trying new ingredients that contribute to their health and have a health-orientated take out. Omega-3 featured alongside probiotics in the top five ingredients that consumers in both countries felt would help products stand out in the competitive wellness market.

Reaching out with the ‘Power of 3’

On the consumer front, February 2020 saw California Walnuts carry out their biggest piece of activity to date, the ’Power of 3’ campaign. This ‘first’ for California walnuts was a global marketing initiative to educate consumers about walnuts’ health benefits, the key message being that a minimum of three handfuls of walnuts a week (around 90g) is an easy and simple way of improving overall nutrition and that walnuts are the only nut rich in plant-based omega-3 ALA.

The month-long blitz ran in nine countries, including the UK, USA, UAE, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey. February is Heart Month in the UK and the US and means Valentine’s Day in many countries, so the February timing was crucial, tying in with omega-3’s benefits for heart health and encouraging consumers to share the “Power of 3” with their loved ones.

“Omega-3 has many associations with heart health,” says The Garden’s Peter Meadows, “including the EFSA-approved health claim that Walnuts contribute to the improvement of the elasticity of blood vessels which is a key factor in cardiovascular health. California Walnuts also have the heart healthy seal of approval from the heart health charity, Heart UK. “The California Walnut Commission’s global landing page was central to the campaign: other elements included digital and social media content, blog posts, sweepstakes, influencer programmes, recipes, pop-up events, samplings, adverts and more. To support the campaign, the California Walnut Commission also provided insight into the science behind plant-based omega-3 ALA, specifically heart health, brain health and healthy ageing.

Strengthen your credentials with California Walnuts

“We’re extremely proud of our omega-3 credentials and want the message to go further, especially among the trade audience,” says Peter Meadows. “Our aim is to continually communicate the provenance of California walnuts and the fact they are a rich source of plant-based omega-3 ALA that the human body needs but can only get from food. They also provide 4.7g of protein and 1.4 g of fibre (per 30g).

“Manufacturers are more and more interested in developing products that contain value-added benefits for consumers. If they are able to upgrade their products’ nutritional content with natural ingredients like California walnuts and strengthen their nutritional profile, it’s a win win for everybody.

“There are many ways to enjoy California Walnuts, not only in traditional uses like snacks and baking, but in exciting new dishes and products such as a ground meat replacement for plant forward consumers. Our role is to show the UK trade how to use them more and more in everyday products and demonstrate how walnuts are truly one of the most versatile nuts on the market, with an additional ‘on trend’ USP – plant-based omega-3.”

Plant-based also powering walnuts

Consumer appreciation of California walnuts’ nutritional benefits is also currently being boosted by the surging interest in plant-based eating, which is fuelling interest in natural ingredients, particularly nuts. The Vegan Society reckons there are around 600,000 vegans in the UK, up from 150,000 in 2006, and twice as many women as men are vegan. Quite a few athletes and footballers have embraced veganism.

Why California walnuts?

California’s Central Valley provides ideal conditions to sustainably grow premium quality walnuts. California walnuts are generally lighter in colour and have a sweet-mild taste with a soft creamy texture, making them a versatile ingredient for different flavour profiles and recipes as well as processed products.

California walnuts are supplied in a variety of sizes and colours, based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Standards for Grades of Shelled Walnut. The California Walnut Industry has earned a reputation for producing the highest quality walnuts in the world while maintaining an exceptional food safety record for a century. California Walnuts are grown, harvested, and processed following strict Federal and State food safety regulations. The finished product often exceeds quality standards set by the USDA. The UK is primarily a market for shelled walnuts, though walnuts in their shells are still significant sellers for snacking and at Christmas. When using shelled walnuts in food manufacturing, it’s important to store walnuts correctly to extend their shelf life and maintain their delicious taste. Peter Meadows: “Cold storage is key as well as making sure they are not stored next to other ingredients with strong odours such as onions or spices as walnuts will take on those flavours.”

We’ll support you

The California Walnut Commission (CWC) works closely with manufacturers here and around the world to help create new products containing California walnuts and provide marketing support as appropriate. This activity includes use of the California walnuts origin logo on packaging, product launch support, point of purchase and in-store promotions, and inclusion in trade news and California Walnut industry reports.

It’s show time

CWC will be promoting the message about making food products with California Walnuts to food manufacturers and others in virtual shows and conferences and at physical food shows when these return, says Peter Meadows, UK trade representative for California Walnuts: “We will start to build momentum from 2021 and California Walnuts’ omega-3 content will be a key part of the communication. Trade shows, exhibitions and conferences provide valuable opportunities to engage with the UK trade and network with current and lesser known brands. Due to Covid-19, we don’t foresee any physical events until next year, but discussions are ongoing about virtual ones.”

“In the meantime, we’re keen to share ideas with manufacturers and product developers and help them capitalise on the interest in omega-3 and the fact that California walnuts are a rich source and are produced to consistently high standards. At the same time, we need to communicate continually that proper cold storage and just-in-time ingredient preparation ensures a better-quality product for longer.”

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