MODESTO, Calif. — Blue Diamond Growers has a hit on its hands with its new Fresh-Roasted Thin Shell almonds, if Stephen Heinrichs’ reactions are any indication.
“I really like these — they’re very good,” said Heinrichs, a sales representative for JackRabbit, a Ripon, Calif.-based nut harvesting equipment manufacturer, as he returned with his second sample cup.
“You’re not just eating to be eating. You’re eating as an experience, and it’s very good and healthy.”
The Thin Shells were just some of the many new products the Sacramento, Calif.-based almond cooperative showed off at its 102nd annual meeting, Nov. 14, in Modesto, Calif.
Thin Shells are made from the nonpareil almond variety, known for its large kernel and thin shell, said Maya Erwin, Blue Diamond senior group marketing manager.
In-shell almonds are soaked in brine to soften the shells, then run through machinery that reduces the shell thickness. Roasting helps split the shell.
“You can do it one-handed,” Heinrichs said. “You just scrunch them a little bit, and you’re done.”
Blue Diamond has launched two flavors in 10-ounce packages — unsalted and lightly salted with sea salt, Erwin said. The co-op is working on additional flavors.
Thin Shells will be sold in the produce department to take advantage of consumers’ quests for fresh, healthful food and the department’s high traffic, Erwin said.
“We’re pretty much the almond leader in the snack food category,” she said. “This gives us an opportunity to have a presence somewhere else in the store. We felt it was also an opportunity to bring a unique value-added product to produce.”
The products were rolled out initially in Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets’ approximately 240 stores, Erwin said.
In coming months, the co-op plans a national launch, starting in the West and moving East, she said.
Thin Shells are just the latest in a line of consumer value-added products and ingredients that helped the almond co-op earn a record $1 billion in revenue for the 2011 crop, which it finished marketing Aug. 31, said Mark Jansen, president and chief executive officer.
That compares to $700 million in revenue for the 2010 crop.
The consumer group alone has seen growth of 22% year over year, he said.
During the 2011-12 marketing year, Blue Diamond introduced 25 new consumer products.
It also launched a nationwide consumer advertising program, “Get Your Good Going,” during the Summer Olympics. Sales increased 43% during that time, Jansen said.
The campaign promotes Blue Diamond almonds as a healthful snack for people on the go.
To help support continued growth, the co-op broke ground on a new 200,000 square-foot food manufacturing facility in April in Turlock, Calif.
The plant is expected to be ready for trial runs in February, with a grand opening in May.
The 2012 California almond crop, which growers just finished harvesting, is shaping up to be large, although not as large as expected, Jansen said.
The latest estimates peg it at about 1.9 billion pounds, down from the 2.3-billion-pound estimate the National Agricultural Statistics Service issued in May.
Jansen blamed hot, dry conditions this summer for shrinking kernel size, reducing overall tonnage.