The Almond Board of California (ABC) has plans to make almonds a ‘must-have’ essential for both the state's agricultural economy and consumers around the world.
Strategies to accomplish those goals — and sustainable success — in domestic and foreign markets were unveiled at the Board's recent annual conference in Modesto by Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer, and other ABC officials.
Waycott said the conference theme, “Shaping Our Destiny,” recognizes the position which the almond industry has evolved in the past 10 years.
The Board, a Federal Marketing Order, is now promoting the forecasted, record 1.5-million-pound 2008 crop, up 8 percent over the 2007 crop.
Faced with the severe global economic downturn and volatility in currency exchange and commodity pricing, the industry has been affected at many levels, Waycott said.
“So in these difficult times, it is important to put our industry in perspective. It's easy to forget the baseline we have built: California almonds have an incredible value, and people around the world want a convenient, delicious food that reflects their lifestyle. That hasn't gone away.”
Waycott went on to say the industry has dealt with challenges before and emerged stronger and more successful as a result. Three record crops in a row, month after month of record shipments over the past year and a half, and a “phenomenal track record of working together” all contribute to continued success.
Future marketing of the crop will be based on maintaining long-term demand with discipline and focus to shape the industry's destiny, while all the time differentiating almonds from their competition, he predicted.
“We have adopted two bold objectives. One is achieving a ‘crop of choice,’ for almonds in California agriculture. By doing that, we will enhance the quality of life and success of our growers and handlers.
“The second is to become the ‘nut of choice,’ and enhancing the place we have earned in the hearts and minds of consumers globally. In turn, we will meet the long-term demand with increased market share globally,” Waycott said.
The two objectives, he added, are not isolated but “intractably combined and interconnected.”
Realizing the objective of crop of choice over the next decade will require coping with resources and environmental regulations in California, and what growers do is at the heart of the effort.
“Achieving nut of choice elevates almonds to what we are calling essential status. The Board and staff will try, as we can, to make almonds an essential with customers, clearly preferred as an ingredient or food in their diets.
So, you can't have crop of choice without nut of choice, and vice versa,” Waycott said.
To represent the campaign and the nature of its continuous flow from grower to consumer and all parties between, ABC has adopted a new logo. It consists of a Mobius strip, displaying the legend, “A crop of choice. The nut of choice,” encircling two almond kernels.
“We believe this really symbolizes today what our role is,” Waycott added. “It is not a marketing issue here and a food safety issue over there. Everything is interconnected, and if we don't approach our business and programs that way, we can't succeed.”
In rounding out the descriptions of the ABC's new, integrated, strategic guidelines, Julie Adams, vice president of global technical and regulatory affairs, and Shirley Horn, senior director of global marketing and communications, pointed to the following:
Research, applied science, and best management practices in the orchard will address protection of the environment from grower and handler to health-conscious consumers and will help enhance California almonds' global reputation. Among key BMP developments are fewer passes through the orchard, efficiency in fertilizers and irrigation, and improved pollination.
The U.S. remains the leading almond market, and consumers in North America rank nutrition equal to taste as the chief reason for buying almonds. Domestic annual almond per capita consumption in the U.S. last year reached 1.33 pounds.
The Almond Board has taken the initiative in dealing with food safety issues such as aflatoxin contamination, rather than having regulatory agencies shape policy for the industry. Voluntary sampling programs raised confidence in importers, regulators, and consumers. Consumer perceptions drive marketing decisions, and decisions on food safety and pesticide use made in European nations often become international standards.
The ABC has also sought partnerships with other bodies and collaborated closely with agencies such as the Health Advisory Board and the International Tree Nut Council to develop labeling and nutrient profiles.
Awareness of almonds' nutritional value continues to grow, and the ABC has contributed to more than 600 articles, opinion pieces, and feature stories for more than one billion media impressions during 2008.
Associations have been forged with the chocolate industry around the world and among the top 10 chocolate manufacturers, more than half their products include almonds, generating $75 billion in annual sales.
The ABC entertained a delegation of high-ranking Chinese agricultural officials during the summer of 2008 and established links for anticipated future visits and discussions about markets and trade issues.
Marketing research on consumer attitudes in India in 2008 showed that almonds are the favorite nuts of women there. Other investigations showed regional preferences. With these findings, the ABC will tailor media research projects on almond nutritional benefits and consumer outreach in key cities.
To tap relatively affluent consumers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, the Board launched media and web-based campaigns to overcome common misconceptions, one being the notion that almonds are fattening.
With 70 percent of California almonds going into international channels, ABC officials say ensuring uninterrupted market access and mitigating potential trade disruptions are critical for maximizing export growth.
In additional to high tariffs and trade restricting quotas, almond shipments encounter nontariff barriers such as inconsistent and arbitrarily-imposed sanitary and phytosanitary restrictions.