BM#17 - Walnut spreads
Walnut spread is a high quality, vegetarian spread with healthy and regional ingredients. The spread is made with walnut press cake (the residue from the walnut oil production) from regional oil mills that process regional walnuts. Therefore, it contributes to the cultivation of walnut trees in the region and regional consumption. The walnut spread tastes great with bread but also goes well with grilled vegetables or pasta. The flavours can vary and range from sweet to savoury.
Walnut spreads, focus group workshop in Bodnegg, Germany © Ulfried Miller
In the project, we produced several walnut spreads with up to 20% share of walnut press cake. The flavours are tomato-walnut, paprika-walnut, mint-walnut and chocolate-walnut-cinnamon, with varying shelf-lives. Some of the spreads were produced as fresh products with a comparably short shelf-life of max. 2 weeks, and some spreads have been conserved with pasteurisation.
Business and marketing opportunities
Producing and selling regional walnut spreads is an interesting opportunity for oil mills to make their regional walnut oil production more profitable. In addition, the production and selling of walnut spreads is also interesting for cateringservices or spread/pesto producers as well as walnut farmers (selling only). Many plant-based, often vegetarian spreads are already available on the German market. As this market continues to grow, walnut spreads offer a promising market potential. Yet, given its characteristic walnut taste and, most importantly, its content of nut allergens, walnut spread is not suitable for everyone. To place the product on the market, the aspect of regionality needs to be considered: in the area of Ravensburg-Oberschwaben, a market study in 2018 counted a total of 93 tree owners with 355 trees that produce 20 tons of fresh walnuts available for regional marketing. After drying, 10 tons of dried walnuts remain and only 5 tons after cracking. Of those 5 tons, a total of 2.5 to 3 tons of oil can be produced. This means that 2 to 2.5 tons of walnut press cake are available for further processing, e.g. as spreads. If one produces 300g glasses of spreads with each containing approx. 20% walnut press cake, this would amount to 4,166 glasses of walnut spread. The regional selling of walnut spreads on the conventional food retail market (e.g. REWE, EDEKA) would be problematic due to the low production volumes. Likewise, it would be difficult to get into the product portfolio as a “newcomer” with only one product. Thus, direct selling e.g. in small shops or directly to catering firms seems more appropriate. To market the spreads, an effective “storytelling” approach is required that highlights the regional, circular and health aspects as well as the preservation of regional walnut trees. A relation to the Alpine area could also be an idea to market the product, especially to tourists.
There are several technical, logistical and legal aspects making the implementation of the business model difficult. Firstly, processing walnuts is costly due to the lack of adequate sorting machinery. Most frequently, the walnuts are sorted manually after cracking. This makes regional walnut products labour intensive and expensive. Furthermore, there is also the risk that there are still parts of the wooden shell in the cracked nut kernels. Secondly, in Southern Germany, many oil mills often do contract manufacturing for private persons. They are provided with the already cracked walnuts to produce oil, and then they are “allowed” to keep the walnut press cake. This walnut press cake consists of many different varieties with different tastes. In addition, the storage of the nuts also varies. This has two major consequences: firstly, it makes it difficult to work with only one standard recipe for the spreads, as the taste of the walnut spread can change from batch to batch. Secondly, it also increases the need for a quality management system for good taste and for food safety, e.g. to minimise the risk of processing rancid or moulding walnut press cake that was not stored well. Not knowing how the nuts were stored before the processing comes with a risk. Thirdly, the amount of available walnuts varies from season to season. Finally, these reasons make it almost impossible to get one of the desired certifications of an organic product. In addition to these hurdles, strict food declaration laws that need to be followed are difficult to be met by smaller businesses. For businesses that don’t yet own machinery to process the press cake into walnut “flower” and finally spreads, the investment costs might be a considerable implementation hurdle.
Suggestions for the next steps
The existing networks of walnut farmers or walnut tree owners need to be opened-up. Further market research is needed on the availability, walnut varieties and seasonal availability of the regional walnuts and walnut press cake. This is necessary in order to find out about the availabilities and material costs for production. Based on that, the opportunities for walnut cooperatives need to be explored. A full cost calculation will be needed, including costs for all processes and activities, including logistics, administration and marketing. This would be done by the interested business, to take into consideration the specifications of the operator: this could for instance either be an oil mill a service provider, a catering service or a cooperative. Also, the possibility to certify the walnuts as organic walnuts from different farms needs to be explored. Lastly, further development of the recipes and production is needed to create spreads with a long-enough shelf life, good taste and high quality. To do this, laboratory analyses are required. When using press cake from varying actors, a good quality management protocol needs to be developed and set up for ensuring good storage of the walnuts before processing.
For further details, please read our Best Practice Brochure.