In today’s global market, competition is fierce and the need to understand trends is more important than ever. When Corsicana, Texas-based Navarro Pecan Co. predicted a significant increase in demand for Pecans in China, the company took action by working with the various segments of the industry – including a number of its competitors and businesses overseas – to ensure that the U.S. pecan industry was positioned to supply this growing demand.
“We do look at the Chinese market as competition, but we feel that an informed competitor is better for our industry in the long run,” says Dan Zedan, director of new market development. “The Chinese middle-class population has grown dramatically and will continue to grow. If we work with them to establish new ways for them to supply some of their own projected increase in demand, we will be able to continue to produce a profit without being forced to give up on our own established markets.”
Since its inception in 1977, the company has maintained a focus on market trends and evaluating opportunities as they develop. As a result of this focus, Navarro Pecan became one of the first major exporters of pecans in the country.
“We had some minor forays into exporting in the early years, but it wasn’t until 1991 that we made a firm commitment to develop the European export market,” Zedan says. “This was done after performing a detailed analysis of several emerging markets in which we were able to identify a number of opportunities overseas.”
The company soon became a driving force in the industry, pushing for more research into the health benefits of pecans to put the products more in line with trends in eating and nutrition. “We’ve been very proactive in our market,” Zedan says. “We feel it’s important to educate members of our industry to the impact that demand from China could have on our market.”
Zedan says the impact could be a game-changer for the pecan industry worldwide. Zedan himself reached out to experts at several universities to develop a delegation to tackle issues in the international market.
“We look at it this way: If China can increase their own supply, we will be able to satisfy their growing appetite for pecans while preserving our own markets that we’ve spent millions of dollars developing throughout the years,” he says.
In his opinion, the majority of American companies today are far too focused on short-term profits to realize the importance of long-term gains.
By helping Chinese competitors supply their demand, “we are looking out for our long-term growth,” he says.
Navarro Pecan has become one of the largest pecan shellers in the world with a shelling capacity of more than 50 million pounds a year. It ships its products around the world to markets in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
National and international food manufacturers have come to rely on Navarro Pecan to provide nuts for their ice cream, confections, baked goods and other products. For an example, over the past 10 years, Navarro supplied 100 percent of the pecans for Dairy Queen. “We’ve developed many of our customer relationships over a very long period of time,” Zedan says.
Several other key accounts include companies such as Kellogg’s, Kroger, Unilever, Ben and Jerry’s, Baskin Robbins, Fannie May and Planters.
It stresses food safety above all else, and has invested more than $1.2 million into its operations over the past 18 months to comply with the Global Food Safety Initiative. Navarro achieved Safe Quality Food (SQF) level-two certification for its warehouses, grounds, coolers and production areas.
“We had to hire additional people and have them trained on SQF procedures,” Zedan explains. “We also made sure to educate senior-level officers including George Martin, the president and owner of the company. To our knowledge, none of the other companies in our industry have their senior-level officers trained and certified, but we feel it’s important that we take a top-down approach to make sure the employees recognize the commitment that we’re making.”