07 Nov 2019

Plant-based foods have grown rapidly in 2019, and with many switching to a flexitarian diet high in plant-based foods a focus on health and wellbeing has seen more consumers looking for plant-based foods with significant health benefits. High in Omega-3, walnuts offer a number of health benefits, we spoke to Pamela Graviet, Senior Marketing Director, International at the California Walnut Commission, Official Plant-Based Supporter of Food Matters Live, to find out more.

Can you tell us a little bit about California Walnuts?

The California Walnut Commission (CWC), established in 1987, represents the California Walnut industry made up of over 4,800 growers and close to 90 handlers. The CWC is involved in scientific research examining the nutritional value of walnuts and explore the role of walnuts in a healthy diet as well as export market development activities. The sunny climate of the Central Valley of California is ideal for growing walnuts and is home to numerous walnut orchards – many of which are family-owned for generations. Incidentally, close to two-thirds of global walnut trade comes from California.

What makes California Walnuts so special?

Well, the walnuts from California are grown with care in the perfect conditions, the nuts are harvested from late August to November and processed to the highest quality California Department of Food and Agriculture as well as USDA standards.

What are the key health benefits of walnuts that might not be common knowledge?

Did you know that walnuts are the only tree nut significantly high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid?*

It might also not be common knowledge that a key part of the CWC strategy is supporting health research and publicising California Walnuts’ numerous health benefits. The CWC actively promotes California Walnuts’ benefits to the UK trade and consumers through a wide range of marketing and press (or public relations) activities.

For over 25 years the CWC has supported health-related research on walnuts, investing close to $20 million in 11 countries and working with more than 55 institutions and universities. Over 160 scientific publications have helped provide knowledge and understanding of the unique health benefits associated with consuming walnuts. The results support health claims in the EU and the US.

We can also share that California Walnuts’ research resulted in the EU confirming the EFSA-approved health claim that ‘a 30g handful of walnuts a day, as part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, can have a positive effect on the elasticity of the blood vessels and can thus help with keeping the cardiovascular system healthy.’

To see the breadth of the health research and topics covered on walnuts, please visit our US CWC site.

(* A handful, 30g, is the daily recommended amount, which offer 2.7g of ALA)

Plant-based food has been one of the biggest trends of 2019, how does California Walnuts see this trend developing?

Plant-based eating has been increasing globally driven by a variety of factors and according to Kantar research, it looks like it’s here to stay. People in general are being more mindful about what they eat and are looking for balance in their food choices. In an article published in the Washington Post, the number of new US food and drink products that mentioned “plant-based” grew 268 per cent between 2012 and 2018 according to consumer research company Mintel. Walnuts are a nutrient dense food and a great option for people wanting a more plant-based diet as they deliver protein, fibre and a variety of micronutrients.

Do you see more people moving towards meat reduction, adopting flexitarian approaches to eating, or is there big potential for growth in the vegan market?

People are becoming more aware of the foods they eat and for California Walnuts, this is a great opportunity. Walnuts are an ideal snack and unique among tree nuts as they are the only one that provides a significant amount of the plant-based Omega-3 fatty acids that everybody needs and can only be received through food. They also can help keep you fuller longer. Walnuts can be literally transformed into a variety of dishes through cooking and spices that meet the needs of vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians and those that need to eat low salt or gluten free. Our website has a variety of recipes and ideas how to use them as a ground meat substitute for burgers, tacos, spaghetti sauce; a thickener for sauces and soups, a coating for fish and many more.

Are there any key numbers or stats that you can share that might be of interest to our industry audience?

As the new harvest begins (starting in August until the end of November), the 2018-19 year to date results to 31st August show UK demand for ‘shelled’ California Walnuts has grown significantly. UK shipment figures to 31st August highlight a year-on-year increase for ‘shelled’ California Walnuts of over 15%, equating to an uplift of 1,358,293 pounds or just over 616 metric tonnes*, a sizeable increase on 2017/18.

Interestingly, in the UK the estimated per capita consumption is 0.41kg annually. The recommended daily serving is 30 grams (or a handful) so that means people from the UK are eating a serving of walnuts only 13 times a year. We are looking to increase this.

The California Walnut industry has invested in research for the past 50 years developing and testing technologies for the future of walnut farming, including improved orchard management, entomology, plant pathology and nematology. As well as breeding through time-honoured traditions - no GMO - to develop stronger, more pest and disease resistant trees as well as new varieties.

Commenting on the global stage – the International and Dried Fruit Council (INC) report in their 2018/19 ‘Nut and Dried Fruits, Statistical Year book’ that world tree nut production reached ca. 4.5 million metric tons, which ‘represents an overall increment of 47% from 10 years ago’. Walnuts had the 3rd biggest crop rise in 2018/19 with a 37% increase. The USA leads the world tree nut production , in 2018/19 it accounted for 41% of the world share.

For more plant-based commentary and how California Walnuts can be used in a variety of dishes and products, visit the California Walnut Commission at the Food Matters Live show on Stand H18.

For plant-based recipe ideas and inspiration visit californiawalnuts.co.uk or for trade related news californiawalnuts.co.uk/trade.

* Source: CWC Shipment figures in August 2019 - shelled pounds - 2017/18: 8,689,019 against 2018/19: 10,047,312