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Mariani Nut Co. in Winters, CA, which specializes in California walnuts, California almonds and pecans from various parts of the United States, has seen broader use of its products for a variety of applications throughout the year in recent years than in times past. Still, they remain “a core item for the holiday season,” according to Matt Mariani, who oversees the company’s sales and marketing activities.

“We are fortunate now that our items do sell year round,” he said, “but the holidays are still a very important time, and it is definitely our peak selling season.”

05-HoliDriedFruitNut-MarianShelled whole almonds. (Photo courtesy of Mariani Nut Co.)Coming into the holiday season this year, the company has developed a new “store-ready pallet display that comes in a full pallet or half pallet option,” Mr. Mariani said. The concept was developed “based on retail feedback.”

It consists of “high-graphic display pieces that stack upon themselves” and can include “a variety of the different nut options and different cuts.” Almonds, for example, can be sliced, slivered or whole natural. A retail display can come in mixed with “different SKUs preloaded” on a floor-ready pallet or half-pallet that needs only to be “dropped on the floor” and it is “ready to go,” he said.

The graphics portray “nice imagery” of the orchards in which the nuts were grown and communicates a message of freshness to consumers. “We feel it portrays a nice image on the floor of the supermarket to the consumer,” he said.

“It is a new display that we are really excited about,” Mr. Mariani continued. “We’ve got a a lot of feedback from customers that were wanting to build large displays and merchandise the items prominently. Hopefully, this is a tool for them” to achieve that goal with little effort.”

In an interview with The Produce News Oct. 17, Mr. Mariani talked about the 2012 crops.

In California walnuts, he said, “we are about 50 percent through our harvest” and are “getting a better feel for what the crop size and quality will ultimately be. So far, everything looks positive.” It will not be a record crop, “but it is going to be a good average to above average crop from a tonnage standpoint,” he said. “From a quality standpoint, we have had good weather conditions for harvest to date, so we are receiving good quality thus far.”

On the demand side, he said, “the market remains strong. We are continuing to see both strong domestic demand and global demand for California walnuts.”

The story is similar with regard to California almonds, he said. “We are probably 75 percent done with our harvest at this point. Again we are expecting a good, slightly above average crop but not a record crop. Again the quality looks good to date.”

On the demand side, “the markets have remained strong with continued buying interest both in the domestic market and the overseas market, so it is a pretty positive story in almonds right now as well.”

With pecans, which Mariani sources from California, the Southwest and the Southeast and which are typically harvested in November and December, “it is a little too early to tell what the crop size and tonnage is going to be,” he said.

“Our focus as a company continues to be merchandising and distributing our product through the produce departments and the perishable departments of supermarket chains,” Mr. Mariani said. “That is continuing to grow for us.”

The company’s largest line now, “and our fastest growing line, would be what we call our produce line of natural products,” he said. It consists of “natural almonds, walnuts and pecans, that are in their natural form, freshly packed with no preservatives” and no other ingredients. They are packaged in “a clear-style package where the consumers can see exactly what they will be purchasing.”

There are seven primary SKUs in the natural products line in different pack sizes ranging from an eight-ounce bag to a 16-ounce bag, Mr. Mariani said.

The versatility of nuts has continued to drive the category in the produce department, Mr. Mariani continued. In addition to traditional holiday baking, the products are finding “many new applications, so we continue to see growth in this area.”