California Walnut Board — As we enter the seventh month of lockdowns and shelter-in-place, many people wonder what the impact of this pandemic will be on the walnut industry and consumer spending. Together, as your partners, we have been monitoring and evaluating the COVID-19 media landscape and consumer sentiment and have adapted plans and messaging as necessary across all of our audiences and platforms, ensuring our messaging continues to resonate with our consumers and drive market demand for walnuts.
During COVID-19, the California Walnut Board (CWB)/California Walnut Commission (CWC) have been working collectively to promote the health benefits of walnuts to U.S. consumers and around the world. One example includes tapping into the pandemic trend of “at-home baking” and showcasing the many benefits of walnuts. Another example includes expanding our retail efforts with an e-commerce campaign as well as a targeted snacking campaign in the U.S., which will drive awareness and encourage purchase. There remains incredible growth opportunity in the U.S. market, particularly in retail, to drive demand. We will continue to find new ways to reach our consumer in the U.S. and around the world.
Capitalizing on Current Trends
It is the CWB/CWC’s goal to ultimately make walnuts the desired and preferred choice for consumers and the ingredient of choice for food manufacturers and food service operators – used in cooking, baking and snacking. Having a steady drumbeat of media coverage on walnuts is key to keeping walnuts top of mind with the consumer, which drives them to purchase at retail food outlets.
Cooking and baking at home is trending and has been for months, as many people worldwide continue to shelter in place. In the U.S., we pivoted our media outreach to focus on baking, especially banana bread and cookie recipes. Total U.S. media coverage was up 85% year-over-year for the March through May timeframe and was viewed by consumers 3.1 billion times, leading them to in-store/online purchase. Interest in baking and cooking drove recipe coverage for April/May to exceed holiday coverage, demonstrating record interest in using walnuts.
In India, a large percentage of the middle class has hired help to cook their meals, and during COVID, many left the major cities to return to their villages. For some, this was the first time that they have had to prepare meals for themselves, and recipes and instructional videos from celebrities, chefs and prominent influencers have become a lifeline. With our versatility across all parts of Indian cuisine, as well as international recipes, we reached out to the media, promoting walnuts as a healthy staple to have in every home. Each month, these efforts have reached hundreds of millions. For example, during just the month of May, our recipes alone reached over 237 million consumers.
Health and wellness are top of mind now more than ever with consumers who are looking for foods that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Our ongoing messaging around the scientific health research continues to solidify walnuts as a key food to have at home year-round. In Spain, during the height of lockdown, we shared with consumers how to keep a healthy lifestyle with walnut recipes and nutritional and exercise tips through videos, influencers and press activities reaching 26% of the Spanish population.
These are just a few examples of how we capitalized on timely and media-worthy opportunities to drive media coverage and encourage purchase.
You may be wondering how media coverage impacts you as a grower/handler. The more visibility we have with press and consumers, the more likely they are to purchase, driving retail and industry demand.
Snacking Drives Consumption
To drive meaningful ways for the media to cover California walnuts, the CWB commissioned a consumer survey to assess changes in snacking habits in light of COVID-19. The survey revealed that, not surprisingly, consumers are snacking now during COVID more than ever. They are also nearly split on preference for sweet versus savory snacks. Providing these types of timely and relevant hooks is key when pitching media outlets to grab their attention and make sure they write about walnuts.
Typically, consumers are more likely to try products recommended by a celebrity or influencer than by the brand. One example of using a key influencer (with celebrity status) is with Ali Fedotowsky-Manno, of The Bachelorette and E! television fame. We partnered with Ali to promote her favorite walnut snack ideas, encourage trial and drive market demand.
As the pandemic continues, consumers’ cooking and shopping habits have changed. Consumers are looking for simple recipes using ingredients they already have in their refrigerator/pantry. As part of their changing habits they are also more open to learning new ways to do things, which include shopping online. To piggyback on this trend of online shopping, the CWB/CWC created shoppable engagements. A shoppable engagement allows a customer to add recipe ingredients directly to their online shopping cart – leading to purchase. In the U.S., sponsored recipes with walnuts as an ingredient increased 38%, while California Walnuts recipes and blog articles promoted through digital media resulted in a 200% increase in clicks versus the same period a year ago, showing that our marketing efforts are leading to purchase.
In the U.S. we also conducted a retail e-commerce test program that launched in July on Kroger, Amazon, Instacart, Albertsons Safeway and Ahold banners. The online program drove mass awareness and ensured California walnuts stayed top of mind while consumers were actively grocery shopping online. A dedicated California Walnuts product page created an easy way to encourage purchase, and at the end of August, this program had delivered $490,687 in attributed sales with over 67,000 units sold. Instacart has had the strongest performance with 13.8x return on advertising spend; 2-4x is the typical benchmark for the platform.
In Korea, we ran an online promotion for one week at the end of April with an e-commerce site called “we make price” that is popular for its daily delivery service. We created a landing page with over 40 different sizes and packaging of California walnut products and promoted the landing page through the we-make-price mobile app. Our ad reached 3.6 million consumers, and with this promotion, we saw a 2,340% sales increase year-over-year. With e-commerce promotions, not only do we have the opportunity to drive sales, but we can also create awareness with consumers who are actively in the purchase mode.
As COVID-19 continues to unfold in the coming months, the CWB/CWC continue working to protect, develop and grow the California walnut industry. There remains an incredible growth opportunity in the U.S. and around the world to drive market demand.
For the latest news and developments, please visit walnuts.org.