A few easy tactics help stores get more out of walnuts than just baking sales.
Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Walnuts match perfectly with produce objectives, providing multiple sales advantages well beyond the holidays.
Retailers are missing out on a fairly high margin item by not sufficiently merchandising walnuts year-round, asserts Kristen Holden, senior brand manager with Mariani Nut Company, in Winters, CA.
“Walnuts have a longer shelf-life with low shrink and typically higher ring per unit than most produce items. It fits well with a lot of metrics produce is typically concerned about,” she says.
Walnuts are for much more than seasonal baking, agrees Mark Cotê, produce merchandiser at Redner’s Markets in Reading, PA, with 44 stores. “Stores should stock walnuts year round,” he says. “There are so many ways to promote. People want them and will pay for them.”
The bottom line? “Walnuts provide significant incremental sales revenue with very little shrink,” says Don Ladhoff, retail program coordinator at the California Walnut Board (CWB) in Folsom, CA. “They pair well with many items found in produce, offering shoppers a nearly endless array of nutritious options while increasing the basket ring for the retailer.”
Retailers can cash in on walnut popularity by focusing on a few merchandising tactics.
1. Offer Options
Walnuts should be offered in a variety of sizes, although the most popular packages sold in produce departments fall between 8 and 16 ounces.
“The trend is toward offering stand-up resealable bags that have better visibility for shoppers and improved snackability,” says Ladhoff. “In fact, the nation’s largest wholesale club has taken ease-of-snacking one step further with the recent introduction of a 25-ounce jar of snacking walnuts.”
Hammons Black Walnuts in Stockton, MO, is introducing a self-standing, resealable package option for the company’s unique item. “We principally sell eight-ounce bags, but other sizes make sense for some retailers,” says Brian Hammons, president.
Diamond of California has also developed new packaging, including the FreshLock resealable bags. “We also use our packaging to give storage tips to the consumer,” adds Doug Kozlow, senior marketing manager at Diamond of California in Stockton, CA. “For example, we note once you open a sealed bag of walnuts, they should be stored in a refrigerator. The chill will help keep the nut oils stable and result in the best-tasting flavor.”
Sizing options may also be based on sales volume. Mariani has introduced a two-pound/32-ounce bag geared toward peak volume periods. “Especially for retailers competing with club stores, this is a great product,” says Holden. “For some retailers, this size may not make sense every day, but it’s very good for peak periods.”
2. Promote Snacking and Flavor
Stores can harness the snacking trend with walnuts. CWB consumer research found snacking is the top use for 70 percent of respondents. With the growing interest in walnut snacking, Ladhoff is seeing more flavored walnut items. “Running the gauntlet from sweet to savory, these new flavors are attracting interest and sales appear to be almost entirely incremental.”
“We’re coming up with new flavors all the time,” says Mike Poindexter, chief executive of the Poindexter Nut Company in Selma, CA, which offers a line of snack nuts, Crazy Go Nuts. “We’ve been marketing this product for about five years and the growth has been pretty substantial. We’re seeing movement in a lot of different markets now.”
Diamond’s new snack line, Snack Walnuts, is a completely new offering in both the snack and nut categories. They are available in eight sweet and savory flavors, and incorporate real kitchen spices, seasonings and recognizable sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, says Kozlow. “We see consumers gravitate toward Snack Walnut flavors such as Hot Honey, Himalayan Pink Salt, and Salted Dark Chocolate — all high quality and popular ingredients not historically used with walnuts.”
3. Draw Shoppers with Organic and Sustainable
Stores can increase customer choice by adding wild or organic options to the mix. “Black walnuts are highly sought after in many parts of the country as a native, wild, healthy and sustainable nut,” says Hammons. “They complete a full nut line in produce.”
According to Hammons, chefs are experimenting with black walnuts for different applications. “Stores can really promote the local and sustainable aspects of black walnuts — wild, squirrel planted, watered by the rain, naturally fertilized,” he says.
“Black walnuts do have a following. There are shoppers who will come to the store specifically to buy black walnuts if they know they’re there.”
As organic production has increased, so have opportunities with organic walnuts. “For many years it was hard to get walnut growers to plant organic walnuts, so the price was astronomically high,” says Poindexter. “Now, more growers have made that transition. We have dramatically increased supply and can offer organics to larger supermarkets at decent pricing.”
Poindexter says several retail customers that never did much in organics are now carrying organic walnuts full time. “One of those is actually a discount store,” he adds. “This shows the broadness of the walnut demand.
This store is now one of our best customers.”
4. Display Prominently
Nuts must be noticeably front-of-mind for shoppers. “Keeping nuts in a back separate aisle misses an opportunity to connect to the shopper,” says Mariani’s Holden. “If nuts are sitting next to apples, bananas or salad bags, people are more likely to grab a package.”
Stores will do well to put walnuts where they’re visible, agrees Poindexter. “And put them in the circular,” he adds. “When stores go on promotion, the jump in sales is huge.”
The best way to merchandise walnuts is through secondary displays such as off-shelf shippers throughout different parts of the store, says Diamond’s Kozlow, which reminds consumers of their versatility. “Displaying walnuts such as Diamond’s Nut Toppings near leafy greens or salad kits reminds the consumer to add that nutty crunch to their next salad.”
Using shippers for display allows for easy customer access. “Our retailers use racks that fit right below the typical produce bins,” says Holden. “They don’t take up a lot of space, yet it’s easily available for the consumer.”
For peak sales periods, she recommends secondary placement using shippers or other displays to capture those high-volume opportunities.
Redner’s Markets’ Cotê agrees shippers are a good way to catch people’s attention and “the product doesn’t take up regular shelf space,” he adds. “It’s a great way to cross-merchandise. We utilize very effective shippers from Diamond with eight different sections.”
5. Play Up Health
Departments should take advantage of walnuts’ connection to health, which influences the purchase of walnuts in produce rather than just in the baking aisle, says Holden. “They’re being put in salads and have become a very popular substitute for meat — for example, walnut-meat tacos.”
She recommends using POS materials to promote health messages. “Putting in a shipper with a header card talking about the heart healthiness of walnuts attracts sales,” she says. “We usually link it with a deal, such as get a free bagged salad.”
As plant-based and keto lifestyles continue to grow, so will the demand for plant-based proteins and superfoods such as walnuts, explains Kozlow.
“Retailers should absolutely tout the healthier-for-you messaging, as it aligns with the needs of today’s consumers,” he says. “At Diamond, we help retailers with this by calling out health benefits on the packaging or on secondary displays. Diamond recently saw success in a partnership with the CWB, communicating the health benefits of walnuts on off-shelf shippers.”
6. Broaden Holiday Sales
Walnut sales have traditionally been strong around Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but retailers are encouraged to look beyond traditional American holidays.
For example, Ladhoff notes the success of American Heart Month — February — as a viable promotional period, and many retailers now include it in their annual promotional calendar. “During the CWB’s American Heart Month campaign this past February, over 6,100 stores displayed walnuts in their produce sections with heart-healthy messaging provided by CWB,” he says.
CWB is working to make July another period to promote walnuts with a multi-million dollar campaign in 2021 focused on walnut snacking, according to Ladhoff.
The key is looking at each store’s demographics, finding out what their holidays are, and marketing for those occasions, adds Poindexter. “For example, the Fresno area includes a large population of East Indian Sikhs. They have a holiday just after Christmas and use a lot of walnuts. So, if you have a population of Sikhs, then you want to merchandise and promote for that time. Or, if you’re in a Muslim area, then you want to look at Ramadan. A lot of these ethnic holidays are very underserved.”
Stores can also promote alternative walnut uses for established holidays, such as a Cinco de Mayo vegan taco promotion showcasing walnuts as the “meat” and cross-merchandising avocados, tomatoes and other taco essentials, says Holden.
To expand sales outside of holidays, Diamond’s Kozlow suggests retailers remind consumers how to incorporate walnuts with seasonal produce and everyday recipes via their placement in stores. Diamond offers tools, such as an extensive catalog of recipes that are often included in take-home recipe cards on shippers or on the back of packaging, he says.