Americans are going nuts for California almonds
- Production of almonds in California could reach 3 billion pounds in 2021, up from about 2.25 billion pounds last year, Richard Waycott, president and chief executive of the Almond Board of California, told Food Navigator.
- The projection comes after the 6,800 California farms, which harvest 80% of the world’s almonds, produced a record 2.136 billion pounds during the 2016-2017 crop year. Recently, the tree nut has become popular for a variety of uses, including in snacks, as a flour substitute in gluten-free baking and to produce almond milk.
- One challenge that almond growers have faced is the impact the nut has on the environment. ABC says California growers have found ways to reduce the amount of water needed to grow one pound of almonds by a third during the past two decades.
Consumers around the world are going nuts for almonds. Sales of almond milk alone have grown 250% in recent years. With initiatives that aim to increase production during the next half decade, California almond growers are working on meeting the rising demand for their tree nuts.
At 676 million pounds, domestic shipments during the 2016-2017 crop year were the largest on record, according to ABC’s 2017 annual report. The U.S. remains the number one global destination for California almonds, receiving 32% share of shipments. For the first time ever, more than two billion pounds of almonds were exported, with California growers sending shipments to more than 90 countries.
The demand for almond products has not been lost on Big Food. WhiteWave was acquired by Danone in April, adding Silk Almond and So Delicious Almondmilk to the fold. Kellogg also purchased the parent of RXBAR last October, a clean label manufacturer of snack bars with almonds, cashews and dates.
Known for its cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers, California is one of five places on earth with the climate needed to grow almonds. With each nut using as much as a gallon of water, almonds haven’t always been seen as good for the California environment, which in recent years has battled wildfires and drought, followed by serious flooding and recently mudslides.
As demand grows for almond milk and other products containing the popular nut, the industry has realized it needs to find ways to be more environmentally friendly, or risk upsetting consumers who are increasingly concerned about how the products they consume are made. That could ultimately find consumers cutting back on products made with almonds.
But ABC said it has taken steps to improve farming practices and water-saving technologies. In December, it announced it was investing $4.8 million in 64 independent, third-party research projects experimenting with innovative farming techniques, including water sustainability.
Additionally, current almond farming practices are offsetting 50% of their carbon emissions. With further production improvements, ABC says almond farming could become carbon neutral or even carbon negative. California growers also are working on initiatives to reuse almond shells and hulls for feed, livestock bedding and to generate electricity.
The nut, also popular for its heart health benefits that manufacturers can tout on their label, appears to have a promising future. But other nuts and food ingredients are likely looking to dethrone the nut king, making it imperative that almond producers don't rest on their past successes.
- Almond Board of California Almond Almanac 2017