The California almond industry is expanding global efforts to increase the demand and sales of the state’s top nut by volume while minimizing the long-term impact of the world’s economic recession.

“We learned that accelerating through a downturn, not braking through the curves, places one in an even stronger position as one hits the straightaway; distancing our industry even further from the competition,” said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer of the Almond Board of California (ABC).

Waycott spoke to 1,800 almond growers and industry representatives during the 37th annual Almond Industry Conference held in Modesto, Calif., in December.

The future of the California almond industry in many ways has never looked brighter, the industry pitchman says. The last 12 months have proven the industry’s resiliency by repeatedly busting shipment records as other industries have “languished.”

Waycott sifted through a litany of almond shipment numbers. Shipments have increased 10 percent over the prior year. From August through November 2009, almond shipments increased 12 percent over the same time period a year earlier. November 2009 shipment numbers totaled 145.5 million pounds, a 23 percent increase over November 2008.

“We’re trying truly to be the runaway kid this year with shipments of 76.5 million pounds in four months equating to 75 percent of what we have consumed all of last year,” Waycott said. “Every region in the world where we ship is a positive territory year to date. The ability of this industry year after year to outdo what all seems to be undoable is truly astounding.”

Waycott predicts early 2009-2010 crop year shipments will lead to an overall “off the charts” year.

The ABC’s goal is to establish California almonds as a crop of choice in the 21st century in California; as Waycott explained, “to win the privileged status of being the essential nut of choice in the hearts, minds, products, and diets of global customers and consumers around the globe.”

The goal will be achieved through baseline innovation, not by resting on past laurels.

“We innovate from strength, experience, knowledge, and instinct,” Waycott said. “We innovate across the entire spectrum of economic and market drivers. ABC program areas are constantly challenged to discern how we can become better and then how can we become the best.”

Waycott says achieving the goal is tied to the Almond Board’s sustainability strategy. Instead of rushing into program development, the almond industry purposefully and methodically designs tools to help growers reduce production costs while generating credible environmental information to create a positive identity with leading global food manufacturers and retailers.

“Tomorrow’s winning food ingredients will be those that provide the same level of food safety confidence that their clients expect of themselves,” Waycott stated.

Varietal improvements and rootstock development are the core of future California almond productivity improvements. Comprehensive research is designed to develop more disease resistant, weather tolerant, higher yielding, and more flavorful varieties.

Innovation has led the ABC to become an agent and advocate for change. The ability to innovate and embrace change, Waycott says, will become more important as the almond industry continues to expand, as California almond production becomes more challenging, and as the global trade environment becomes more competitive.

Shirley Horn, chief marketing officer, reported on new marketing strategies designed to create long-term profitability for the California almond industry.

“Time and again it’s been proven that bold, breakthrough strategies can catapult industries ahead of their competitors and deliver long-term value,” the almond cheerleader said. “Our marketing strategies are bold and we continue to keep our competitors scrambling for traction in our wake.”

Bearing fruit is the ABC’s focus of investments abroad in media, trade, and key influencers. The ABC is gleaning information about its “Global Janes”; learning how women across the globe want to achieve healthier lives.

The ABC has highly-visible spokespeople in all major world markets who extol the virtues of eating a handful of almonds daily, Horn says. The approach was implemented in North America 14 years ago and is now a cornerstone of domestic marketing programs.

“Almond ambassadors reflect the attributes of California almonds: smart, contemporary, sensual, simple, and approachable,” Horn said. “These ambassadors are true almond lovers.”

The ABC’s newly designed global Web site, www.almondboard.com, has revolutionized communications with stakeholder audiences and increased almond consumption.

The ABC global strategy has also created a stronger dialogue with food manufacturers and professionals.

“Our goal is to become their nut of choice,” Horn said. “Our conversation focuses on the value that California almonds bring to their products.”

Not only is value important; buyers also want a stable supply of California almonds.

“That is music to a nut buyer’s ears,” Horn said.

“California almonds are a safe and wholesome food provided by dedicated growers and handlers in California; real people whose livelihoods depend on consistently delivering a quality product.”

Horn bragged that almonds have surpassed peanuts as the No. 1 nut used in chocolate-based food creations. She has a simple message to the 10 global chocolate companies which sell three-quarters of the world’s chocolate volume.

“Almonds and chocolate are the perfect match.”

Strong global demand is also tied to positive nutritional findings on almonds; research conducted by world-class researchers.

“Our almond customers depend on the quality of their ingredients because their consumers demand quality,” Horn said. “They want to know their food is safe, produced in a sustainable way that helps the livelihood of farmers, keeps the environment in balance, and meets the needs of local communities.”

email: cblake@farmpress.com