Pistachio sales approaching almonds in snacking, says Wonderful exec
Following the biggest crop ever for the world’s largest integrated pistachio grower-processor, creative and wide-ranging marketing campaigns have led to a “record level of brand awareness” amongst U.S. consumers.
Wonderful Pistachios has shelled out big to achieve that recognition. Speaking with Fresh Fruit Portal, the company’s vice president of marketing Adam Cooper said the most recent marketing campaign was valued at US$55 million.
“We’ve become the fastest-growing snack nut and actually the fastest-growing salty snack overall,” he said.
Marketing included tongue-in-cheek videos with 3D cartoon character Ernie the Elephant, a dedicated health campaign and promotions with National Football League (NFL) star Richard Sherman.
“For Ernie we’ve seen a lot of success for him compared to past programs we’ve done...with Ernie we had really good recall and people actually liked that campaign even more than past campaigns which is great,” Cooper said.
“Most importantly to us is that it motivated people to buy pistachios specifically so we were very excited to see that, and the campaign helped us to achieve a record level of brand awareness as well as record market share.
“In the U.S. we’ve reached over 80% market share in the pistachio category. There’s been a lot of growth this year and Wonderful alone has accounted for about 97% of all the dollar growth in pistachios.”
Times Square positioning and attracting health nuts
Wonderful Pistachios is also bringing in another NFL star Clay Matthews, and recently announced a new marketing alliance with the world’s largest live entertainment company Live Nation as well as adding three new team partnerships in Major League Baseball (MLB).
More broadly, the Wonderful Company (including POM Wonderful, Wonderful Halos and other brands) has also made a new investment with billboard advertising in Times Square, New York.
“I think it’s relevant because obviously there tourists coming not just from all over the country but all over the world,” Cooper said.
“It’s a new digital billboard which is on the building where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, so one of the most famous buildings in the world now has healthy brands talking to the locals.”
In pistachios, Cooper said part of the campaign was aimed at people looking for a “fun, PC neat snack”, and another component focusing on the specific health benefits of pistachios.
“The health campaign is talking to folks who are enjoying snacks while watching sports at home – so there’s something for everybody which is a unique marketing challenge and opportunity for us,” he said.
“It [the health campaign] started this past year but we’re really doubling down on it for next year, and it’s about being the “Wonderful Nut”, being the fit nut, the skinny nut, the mindful nut, the colorful nut and the happy nut.
“All of those are based on the fact that Wonderful Pistachios compared to other snacks is one of the best in terms of health; it’s one of the lowest in calories, one of the lowest in fat, one of the highest in protein and fiber, and of course heart-healthy,” he said.
He added pistachios’ green color also made them different and appealing, adding to the already strong case for health.
“We really think Wonderful Pistachios can be considered the healthiest of the nuts and we hope people will see it that way,” he said.
Production gets cracking
Cooper said this past harvest was “the biggest crop we’ve ever had by far” for both Wonderful and the Californian industry.
“It was over 900 million pounds across the California industry and we were very well prepared for it,” he said.
“We have been investing in capacity and operations and food safety for many years, knowing that this big crop was coming and it finally came.
“We went out big with this huge marketing campaign, more aggressive prices than we had in the past, and we’re seeing a lot of success across the industry – in the U.S. in particular we’re up over 50% in our volume and I think we see growth continuing.”
After this point he clarified pistachios were alternate bearing with on- and off-cycles.
“But because there are so many pistachios coming on-line from investments made over the past decade, we’re not going to have quite as big a crop but it’s still going to be quite a nice-sized crop for next year,” he added.
“We feel like we have one of the industry leading processes for getting nuts off the trees, both farming as well as processing, and we believe we use the most advanced technology available to process our nuts.
“We have new roasting and packaging plants that have been built just over the last five years, and we’re using fuel cells and other things that are helping from a sustainability point of view.”
In layman’s terms, he said farming involved trucks going down the rows, hooking themselves to the trees and shaking them to catch the nuts.
“We are always looking for continuous improvement opportunities – in almonds it’s a different process, the almonds fall off the tree and then we sweep them up off the ground after they’ve dried out, and we have a nice process where trucks go down and vacuum them up.
“But in order to minimize the dust and obviously the impact to the local environment, we have this technique of adding water to that.”
He said the group was always looking for different ways to use the hulls taken off the nuts during processing, including for use in the local dairy industry as cattle feed, or using them to make energy.
And as with any conversation about sustainability in California, water is not an issue that can be ignored.
“We’re certainly committed to the conservation of water for all our crops, and we’re always looking for new ways to further reduce our water footprint,” Cooper said.
“The biggest thing we’ve done is we’ve invested more than US$100 million to innovate and implement more efficient ways of irrigating our orchards.
“We’re doing everything we can to minimize the impact but we also want to make sure we can make these healthy snacks available to a lot of people and we need water to do that – we hope it helps people make healthier choices.”
He said Wonderful Companies had 65,000 acres of pistachios and almonds, while the group also partnered with grower-partners who “adhere to the same strict standards we have”.
“We’re very proud of those relationships,” Cooper said.
“Of the California crop we represent roughly 60-65% of the crop with all of our partners, so it’s a very consolidated industry here and Wonderful is actually the leader.”
Can pistachios overtake walnuts or almonds?
It felt like a far-fetched question but the response was a surprise.
“In terms of snacking occasions, pistachios right now within snack tests for example are pretty close to almonds,” Cooper said.
“Of course almonds are bigger in baking and walnuts are bigger in baking as well, but in terms of snacking which is where spend most of our time and focus, pistachios are certainly already ahead of walnuts and really approaching the size of almonds in terms of dollar spending.
“We hope, and we’re always striving, to make Wonderful Pistachios the preferred snack nut.”
Stay tuned next week when we take a look at some of the programs in place at Wonderful Pistachio to try and mimic U.S. success in export markets.