Heart-healthy walnuts could be the next big meat alternative as campaigns build on plant-based trend

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Heart-healthy walnuts could be the next big meat alternative as campaigns build on plant-based trend

Related tags walnuts Heart health Marketing Omega-3 fatty acid plant-based

Hoping to exponentially increase consumers’ already growing interest in walnuts, the California Walnut Board today is launching a two-prong marketing effort that will promote the nut’s health benefits and versatility.

As part of American Hearth Month this February, more than 8,000 grocery stores from 25 nationally recognized retailers, including Target, Food Lion, Harris Teeter and H-E-B among others, will feature in-store activations and provide consumers educational content and guidance promoting the heart health benefits of walnuts. The retail program – the board’s biggest to date – also will feature digital and tagged advertising elements targeting 37% of TV households in the US, according to the California Walnut Board.

At the same time, the commodity board will launch its first-ever global marketing campaign in nine countries that will focus on the “power of 3,” which plays off the high levels of omega-3s in walnuts and how consumers only need to eat three handfuls a week to reap their health benefits.

“Walnuts have benefits on a variety of different biomarkers for heart health, including LDL and HDL for cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation and endothelial function. … And because of this, we do have a qualified health claim from FDA on the wellness benefits for cardiovascular health and we also carry the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check certification. And what we wanted to do for American Heart Month is promote these benefits, but also extend consumption of walnuts beyond the traditional baking and breakfast sets”​ as well as the time of year and day-parts when consumers think about eating walnuts, Jennifer Olmstead, marketing director of domestic public relations at California Walnuts, told FoodNavigator-USA.

She explained that “there is still an element of tradition with walnuts and as such November and December tend to be when more people buy and eat walnuts. But people are starting to eat walnuts beyond baking and breakfast and throughout the year. And we wanted to support that with our heart health month retailer campaign.”

A primary goal of the campaign is to increase the in-store sets that feature walnuts by offering off-shelf displays and committing to tag participating retailers in television and radio advertising to help drive store foot traffic, Olmstead said.

She added that this is the third year of the campaign, which ran in a much more limited capacity the last two years but which also generated significant results for walnut sales and its retail partners.

“The results obviously varied by retailer, but we saw up to a 95% unit increase in sales last year with some of the retailers that participated, and we also were able to lift the entire market as much as 21%,”​ Olmstead said.

The Power of 3

The second prong of the California Walnut Board’s marketing efforts in February will focus on the “Power of 3” and extend beyond US retailers to drive awareness around the world of the health benefits of walnuts.

As suggested by the campaign name, the Power of 3 will promote three talking points about walnuts, the first being that they are only nut significantly high in essential plant-based omega-3 ALA with 2.5 grams per ounce.

The second point directs consumers to eat three handfuls of walnuts a week, which Olmstead said is an easy way “to get people on the path, working more walnuts into their daily diet and it is a sharable slogan.”

She noted that currently about 40% of adults buy walnuts and on average they eat about 0.6 pounds per year, which is a far cry from the ounce and a half per day recommended for the health benefits.

“Three handfuls a week gets people much closer to that daily goal,”​ she said.

The last component of the Power of 3 promotion encourages consumers, through sweepstakes and competitions, to share the health benefits of walnuts with three friends or family members. The board also will rely on influencers, pop-up events, sampling and other tactics to raise awareness.

Benefits beyond heart health

While these campaigns will focus on walnut’s heart health benefits, Olmstead notes that emerging research attributes several additional health benefits to walnuts.

For example, research published this month in The Journal of Nutrition​ found eating walnuts may enrich the gut bacteria to benefit digestive health as well as provide additional heart health benefits. Other research shows potential cognitive benefits from walnuts, added Olmstead.

Plant-based movement boosts interest in walnuts

While both campaigns aim to build awareness of walnuts, Olmstead noted that consumer interest in the ingredient already is on the rise thanks in part to the larger plant-based diet and demand for alternatives to animal meat.

“Now is a really good time for walnuts, and we have seen more consumption here in the US, especially around the idea of walnuts as a plant-based meat, so to speak,”​ she explained. “So, you’re seeing them in tacos replacing ground beef, you might see them in burgers or bowls of different varieties. And we are see tremendous interest from the food service sector, including in a new walnut crumble that launched last year.”

Influencers also are promoting the in home use of walnuts to make walnut chorizo tacos, walnut veggie shepherds pie and pizza and plant-based walnut crumble, Olmstead noted.

She added, “I just think there is a lot of opportunity here to grow and for people to be able to take advantage of the health benefits of walnuts.”

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