Almond Board of California sets out its sustainability vision

Richard Waycott, CEO and president of the Almond Board of California, recently made his first visit to ProSweets and ISM in Germany. Neill Barston meets him and chairman of the board, Holly King, to discuss the organisation’s progress and major focus on sustainability

 

Maintaining a keen eye on trends within global confectionery markets is among Richard Waycott’s most pressing tasks as CEO of the Almond Board of California.

As he explains in an exclusive interview with Confectionery Production at our exhibition stand at ProSweets, there have been a number of key developments that have shown a growing move towards consumers favouring snacks options perceived as healthier options.

With almonds recently being reconfirmed in an international study as the most popular chocolate confectionery inclusion, their role within the market continues to grow.

For its part, the Almond Board of California is keenly aware that with an 80% share of global crop supply within the US, it’s mission is to help sure that demand continues to be met, and also to ensure crops are sustainably managed.

As far as product innovation is concerned, the board’s CEO says the product ranges on display at ISM are particularly encouraging.

“I think ISM is a great show – It’s our first time here and we’ve seen that almonds are extremely well represented in the chocolate trade.

“There’s a lot of innovation here too, with lots of new flavours that we’re seeing, as well as some experimentation with all kinds of ingredients, which is exciting to see,” explains Waycott, who says the organisation is continuing to expand its activities within Europe.

He notes there are a number of significant trends that are continuing to gain traction within the industry, including moves towards product reformulation.

“We watch the trade very closely are seeing the changes that are happening with companies like Cargill and Barry Callebaut, as well as businesses such as NestlĂ© and Ferrero trying to take the market next. The idea of trying to move the sweets trade into lower sugar content and healthier ingredients areas is certainly a strong trend. I know it’s been a huge deal in the UK with the sugar tax.

“But we feel that any product featuring almonds brings attributes with it, and so definition, those items are healthier.”
He says that supporting California’s almond farming community of more than 6,500 growers offers a number of challenges on an annual basis.
But he believes the market remains in a strong position, with favourable conditions for crops so far this season.

“I think we have had a good year, with some ups and downs that are not necessarily predictable, but our industry continues to grow, and there has been strong demand worldwide for almond products.

“Once again, almonds are the number one nut for new chocolate product innovations, and Europe is responsible for that. So we are very pleased with the way that companies have continued to find new ways for using almonds,” adds Waycott, who says that with the advent of almond milk and flour, there are a number of products opening up in non-traditional dairy markets. With confidence, he asserts there’s room for even more growth within the almond consumption, based on existing capita consumption levels that he says ‘were some way below saturation point,’ across global markets.

Sustainability drive

As the CEO notes, creating a revised sustainability programme during the past year is of major significance to the organisation.
For the first time, he says the board has committed to four new targets including achieving zero waste from its US orchards, reducing water used in production, and enhancing pest management tools.
“By working collectively towards the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals and key areas such as bee health, we are ensuring that we can farm here in California for the long haul. That means taking care of the land to the best ability we can and farming responsibly. This commitment is based on a history of improving growing practices and will truly impact how we farm in the future,” adds Waycott.

His colleague Holly King, chairman of the Almond Board of California, explains that the farming community had a ‘long history of doing more with less’ and is geared up for delivering its targets.

For over four decades, almond farmers and processors have funded $80 million into scientific research schemes in a bid to improve the quality of its products and environmental management.

“Consumers are looking for us to be responsible towards the environment in the production of our almonds, using our resources in an efficient manner. I think that’s something that farmers want to, as it means their costs are lower.
“We put a lot of thought into what was achievable with these goals – if you don’t have some metrics aren’t very meaningful then there is not much point. We don’t want people to think we are making these targets just for the sake of it,” explains King.
She adds that as regards its zero waste target, initiatives have been devised including using almond shells for livestock, almond hulls for feed, and the trees themselves are ultimately used as biomass.

As part of the initiative, there are also moves to help improve local air quality, as part of a holistic approach to minimise growers’ environmental impact. Over the past two decades, California almond farmers have successfully reduced the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent, through improved production practices as well as adoption of efficient microirrigation technology.

By 2025, the California almond community commits to reduce the amount of water used to grow a pound of almonds by an additional 20 percent.

It is also examining greater markets for used almond shells, improved habitat management including promoting beneficial insects and improving air quality through adapting harvesting times and methods to avoid nuisance to neighbouring areas to production sites. It has committed to reducing dust by 50% during harvest times.

In addition to the 2025 goals, California almond farmers continue to support research in other areas critical to success, investing in seven new projects focused on honey bee health this year alone.
This effort builds on a legacy of $3.2 million invested in 120 research projects since 1995 addressing the five major factors impacting honey bee health.

As part of its ongoing commitment to bee health, the Almond Board has also developed a comprehensive set of Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California almond farmers.

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