Walnuts NZ, the co-operative way forward

Walnuts NZ, the co-operative way forward

The establishment of a grower co-operative in 2015 helped to save the New Zealand walnut industry. With a shared commitment to growing, processing & marketing only high-quality nuts, the co-op now has a growing membership.

With the sale of the small but well-established processing and marketing company, A Cracker of a Nut, New Zealand walnut growers came together to decide how to ensure their industry’s long-term viability.

For growers it was an opportunity to be part of an exciting new venture. Suppliers of A Cracker of a Nut were invited to a meeting in Canterbury where the options were presented, and a transitional board elected.

The co-operative business model emerged as the solution to the growers’ problem and, together, they established Walnuts NZ Co-operative Ltd – known as Walnuts New Zealand – in mid-2015 and started the process of turning the processor into profit.

In this video, Walnuts Industry Group Chairman, Nelson Hubber, pictured left, explains the issues facing his fellow walnut growers in early 2015.

“It is clear that if we are to have a profitable company to process and market our crop, we need to supply a high proportion of high quality nuts from our orchards.” 

Governed by a seven-member board including Nelson Hubber, Walnuts NZ is today proving itself to be up to the challenges.

General Manager, Shane McKenzie, pictured, was appointed at the inception of the co-operative, in April 2015 to facilitate the transition from boutique business to a more formalized and future-proofed entity.

Shane’s knowledge of, and experience in, the food retail industry (including many years at top management level with major players Mainland Products, Goodman Fielder and Alliance Meats) have helped to pave the way for a more strategic approach to sales and branding.

Evolving the established ‘Cracker of a Nut’ company into a more viable long-term player, is a major undertaking and one that Shane takes extremely seriously.

“We have a lot of work to do around branding and packaging, to ensure that we reflect the integrity and provenance of our product, but we are well on the way to getting this on the move,” he says.

“We just need to remember, as they say: ‘Good things take time!’ We have a brilliant, natural and virtually carbon-neutral product, and our messaging needs to reflect this to our consumers.”

Another area Shane is keen to see step into the new millennium is the machinery needed to process the walnuts efficiently.

“To ensure we retain the high quality of our walnut products, while upping our ability to produce cracked nuts and by-products more efficiently, we continually need to invest time and money into sourcing state-of-the-art machinery. This allows us to use our biggest resource, our wonderful staff, more efficiently and effectively.”

The co-op has already invested in a new, efficiency-boosting cracking machine at the West Melton factory, about 30 minutes’ drive south-west of Christchurch. It does not smash the walnuts into small pieces to the extent of the older cracker, making the subsequent sorting process much more automated and less time-consuming.

Walnuts are cracked and separated into a variety of sizes and grades for sale to the hospitality, manufacturing and retail sectors.

The product range includes walnut oil, paste, flour, dukkha and pickled walnuts. Grinding and grading the walnut shells has seen the development of products for the abrasives, cosmetic and wood turning industries.

About walnuts:

  • A nutritional gem, walnuts are gluten-free and heart-friendly – with Omega 3 and 6.
  • Check out these recipes.
  • Walnut shells make excellent landscaping material. The shells take a long time to decompose, have an attractive rustic colour that contrasts with foliage, and sharp edges that assist in keeping slugs and snails away. They are suitable for both small gardens and wide landscape plans as a ground cover and for interesting pathways.