Recently, China/Hong Kong has become the leading export market for inshell California walnuts, with shipments growing to 121 million pounds (ISE), more than double the 2008/09 crop year shipments. Although China is the world’s largest producer of walnuts, Chinese exports have continued to fall while California imports have sharply increased, making China a net importer of walnuts.  Export market development activities have expanded distribution and fostered product development which has led to increased use of walnuts in the snacking, baking and processed food sectors.  Direct to consumer education of California walnuts’ quality, taste, versatility and health benefits has increased awareness resulting in greater local consumption.

The industry’s strong health research program has been key to increasing consumer perceptions of the nutritional benefits of consuming walnuts.  “Consumer perceptions are leading indicators of consumer behavior,” states CWC CEO, Dennis A. Balint.  “These indicators show demand has been increased by health messaging in all of our active markets,” says Balint.  The consumers’ perceptions that walnuts are healthy, a good source of omega-3 and a heart smart choice have risen to new highs.  “The communication of health research has proven influential in raising consumer perceptions and contributing to increased purchase and use of walnuts” states Jack Mariani, walnut grower and President of Mariani Nut Company.  “Health research is instrumental to our global promotional efforts, providing consumers with additional reasons to incorporate walnuts in their diet,” Mariani goes on to say.

Over the past 20 years, the CWC has established a health research program that has generated 74 published papers in leading peer reviewed journals.  Research has focused on key public health issues including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive function, among others.  This strong database of health research led to walnuts achieving health claims from the United States Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety Authority in the European Union.  A robust pipeline of projects are ongoing with 26 projects in the areas of male reproductive health, cancer and diseases of aging being conducted at leading universities in the United States, Spain and Germany, among others.

The industry’s commitment to expanding its health research database and growing consumer awareness continues to yield favorable results, by increasing global consumption and fully utilizing production gains.  As the industry looks to the future, continued expansion of export markets will be critical to absorb future production gains. MAP has been instrumental in export market development efforts and will continue to be as the industry pursues emerging markets such as India. California walnuts remain a leading import in South Korea, Japan, Germany, Spain and China/Hong Kong, among many others, as a result of the industry’s commitment to increasing awareness and respective purchase of walnuts.