Since July 11, 2022 Robert Verloop has taken on the role of Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the California Walnut Board (CWB) and the California Walnut Commission (CWC).
Here’s some insights into his first 100 days and what’s in store for the start of 2023.
1) How are you experiencing the California walnut industry so far?
My background is mainly in the produce industry, having held leadership positions at the California Avocado Commission, Sunkist Growers, Naturipe Farms, Coastline Family Farms, and Pandol Bros. Inc.
What’s become self-evident is that we have an opportunity to clarify walnuts as a produce item too. With the walnut market maturing, it is forcing us to take a look at other points of distribution. In the US, expanding our promotional activities with the produce department is a logical and natural solution. According to a recent survey, 76% of consumers are more likely to buy walnuts when they are displayed with fresh fruits and vegetables.
2) What challenges and opportunities does the CA walnut industry currently face?
The walnut industry is working to address several challenges, including oversupply, supply chain issues, retaliatory tariffs, and climate change. In order to address shipping delays, we are working with other commodity groups to find creative shipping solutions/routes and advocating for legislation and funding for the modernization of ports in California. We are also working with U.S. trade representatives to address trade issues, such as the removal of Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs in many countries, including India and Turkey. Throughout recorded history, California has experienced many droughts, and while the recent drought has had a significant effect on available water options, California walnut growers use research-based irrigation scheduling tools and water application methods to efficiently water trees for the best nut productivity and quality while reducing water use. Nevertheless, there is reason in the long term to continue to be optimistic. Demand for walnuts remains strong because of their known health benefits combined with consumer desire to eat a healthier, more plant-based diet. We are seeing growth from the traditional use of walnuts in baking, to walnuts as a sweet and savory snack, or incorporated into main meals adding that nice crunchy texture with plant-based omega 3, protein and fiber. Walnuts can also be used for spreads such as walnut butter, muhammara, pesto or hummus and walnut milks are showing up in some countries. The most exciting opportunity is how walnuts are ideal as a tasty meat replacement due to their soft meaty texture and umami characteristics that easily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients. Got to love vegetarian tacos, a chili non-carne, or an Asian inspired lettuce wrap!
3) What would you like CWC trading partners in Germany (as the major exporting country) to know?
Germany and California have a long, positive history as trading partners. We both value strong relationships, food safety and quality. California walnut growers work diligently to rise to the top, delivering a very safe, high-value product with world-class customer service. We have been a leader in innovation from the development of new walnut varieties, through harvest, and processing. Our industry’s operations will also stand up to the scrutiny of the new German supply chain due diligence law. The California walnut industry is resilient and will continue to provide this nutritious, plant-based whole food to consumers in your market.