Walnuts Pack a Punch of Nutrition

Black walnuts are marketed principally as an ingredient, because the flavor is so unique.

More than 75% of shoppers are more likely to purchase walnuts when displayed next to fresh produce.

Originally printed in the June 2023 issue of Produce Business.

Whether crunching on a handful of spicy walnuts or concocting a new dish replacing meat with walnuts, the consumer can take heart — walnuts pack a healthful array of nutrients.

Walnuts are so versatile and healthful that they can be merchandised in the produce department, the baking aisle, in a snacks area or in multiple places within a store.

“Most retailers tend to merchandise walnuts in the baking aisle, but we need to expand to also be merchandised in the produce department,” says Jennifer Olmstead, senior director of U.S. marketing and communications for the California Walnut Board (CWB), citing research that shows more than 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase walnuts when they are displayed next to fresh fruits and vegetables.

And Robert Verloop, CEO of the CWB and California Walnut Commission, says that expansion is part of the commission’s strategic direction for 2023. “Our retail team sees tremendous opportunity to expand distribution of California walnuts in the produce section, highlighting their wealth of health benefits and placing them alongside complementary fruits and vegetables.”

“Walnuts belong in the produce aisle, where people are thinking about freshness, versatility and plant-based diets,” Verloop says. “Repositioning walnuts as a healthy addition to foods makes a lot of sense. Walnuts lend themselves well to cross-promotion in the produce department, with dates, berries, apples, salad ingredients and many other fruits. Consumers respond, and it helps retailers ring bigger baskets. The versatility of the walnut can be brought out when we position the product in the context of healthy eating.”

On March 1, 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced walnut purchase plans for distribution to food nutrition assistance programs. It cites encouraging domestic consumption as the purpose.


Diamond of California, Stockton, CA, offers display bins for its in-shell walnuts, both bulk and bagged, to be featured in the produce section. “The bin provides a true farm-to-table experience by allowing the shopper to purchase the volume specific to their consumption,” says Doug Kozlow, senior marketing manager. “Merchandising with nutcrackers also meets a consumer need.”

Diamond of California, Stockton, CA, offers a display bin for in-shell walnuts, which captures additional buys in the produce section. And merchandising them with nutcrackers meets a consumer need and creates a secondary sale.

To draw attention to the brand and product in a heavily competitive snack nut set, Diamond also offers a floor talker to place in front of the products, which also showcases the brand’s heritage, Kozlow says.

“Nuts used to be simple,” observes Chris Large, manager of Torn & Glasser Inc., Los Angeles, which carries a full line of nuts, dates, candy and dried fruits.

When he started almost 25 years ago, holidays were the market. “Now, nuts are day-to-day and very well accepted,” he says, and different seasonings and ingredients in trail mixes are mainstream.

But, Large adds, bulk has not yet recovered from the pandemic. “Some retails ring bulk, but the industry has shifted from loose bulk to clamshell and Ziploc. Some use gravity bins, but those are few and far between.”

He notes bulk often results in higher sales. When scooping, “people look at it and think it is 4 ounces, and don’t know it was a pound.”

Torn & Glasser creates custom mixes and private labels. “Some retailers tweak in and out specials using something to spice it up,” Large says. With its own popular mixes, the flavors list caramel; cranberry; espresso; fruit and nut; goji; honey; hot oriental; roasted no salt; smokehouse; Sante Fe; tropical banana; and more.

Grower-shipper wholesalers Ferrari Farms, of Linden, CA, started bagging during the pandemic. Jeff Ferrari, vice president of sales, says the company shifted when the pandemic shut down bulk bin sales in stores.

To ensure its standards, Ferrari says it processes its own nuts from harvest to packing. Although it sells some conventionally grown walnuts, 85% of its walnuts have been certified organic since 1982.

“Dad and Grandad grew organically before it was fashionable or popular,” he adds. “It started to catch on in the late 1970s.” Ferrari Farms now sells its organic walnuts across the U.S. and exports to Canada, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan.


To celebrate the holiday season in the U.S., producers and retailers showcase holiday baking. “Walnut sales and usage historically spike during the fourth quarter holidays, as that’s when consumers do the most cooking and baking,” says Diamond of California’s Kozlow.

Beef up produce department displays, but also consider center store secondary displays next to holiday bake centers to increase sales.


Snacking is consistently the highest usage, at 70% in many areas, according to the CWB’s Olmstead, but there’s opportunity to increase sales by showcasing the versatility of walnuts in main dishes or as a main protein.

This spring, the California Walnut Board highlighted a campaign to show how easy walnut meat dishes can be prepared at home. “Add ground walnuts to pantry staples with your favorite spices without foregoing the flavor and texture of traditional meat,” Olmstead suggests.

She adds the campaign partnered with two noted food influencers, Yumna Jawan (@FeelGoodFoodie) and Justine Doiron (@JustineSnacks), to showcase new recipes crafted with walnut meat and fresh new ways to update traditional recipes. The campaign’s advertising across social and digital platforms will encourage consumers to learn the techniques for a taco and walnut burger through a video available at walnuts.org.


“Black walnuts are the truffle of nuts,” says Brian Hammons, president of Hammons Products Co., Stockton, MO.

In contrast to snacking, Hammons says black walnuts are marketed principally as an ingredient, with a flavor often described as ‘bold and wild.’

Black walnuts are native to North America, he explains, and because black walnuts are not grown in orchards, people pick them up in yards, woods and along fields. The Hammons company has about 200 buying stations, mostly in the Midwest, where groups such as the Boy Scouts gather the walnuts as money-making projects.

The company contracts with local buyers who remove the moist and messy green hulls and send them to their Stockton address. Afterward, the shells get dried down before cracking. The insides are cracked by closely spaced steel wheels. “They are a tough nut to crack,” Hammon says. “With 100 pounds of shells, only 7 pounds of nutmeat results. Regular walnuts yield 45 to 50 pounds.”

He notices that black walnut devotees with roots in places where the trees grow often seek their ‘homegrown’ foods wherever they relocate. “We get lots of orders from Florida.”

The company is reviewing its fall retail stocks and packaging, including several private label nut companies. Its display shipper box includes selling features that explain how black walnuts differ, as well as tear-off recipes with directions to its website with access to more. Social media and influencers also play a role in merchandising.

“Black walnuts are different, and they are less well known,” Hammon says, but the health attributes are even greater — their protein content is higher at 24.06 grams per 100 grams edible portion.

Reflecting on the new season market, Large of Torn & Glasser, says it’s stable, “but it’s too soon to assess the new crop. Bloom, pollination and the weather are uncertain and too early to judge.”

But his philosophy prevails.“Keeping our fingers crossed it will work out. It always does. Absolutely,” he says.