Select Harvest USA

A major provider of almonds to the international confectionary market is taking steps to greatly expand its business. Select Harvest USA in December will open an expansion of its main facility in Turlock, Calif., where it can dry roast, salt and flavor almonds.

“Currently, everything we process, market or sell is used as an ingredient,” CEO Bob Nunes says. “By building our own facility, we will have the ability to do private-label work and launch our own brand internationally.”

The expansion into ready-to-eat almonds will allow the company to meet an increasing demand for retail products worldwide. “We made the decision to vertically integrate to capture this demand and capture a greater margin, which in turn allows us to become more profitable and pay growers a higher return,” he adds.

Adding private-label capabilities will also enable the company to further separate itself from other processors. “We have a long history of strong grower returns and place an emphasis on food safety and quality, but what will really transform this company compared to other handlers is our branching out into the retail market with value-added products,” Nunes says. “There are no other handlers who are processing for private label right now, and that is the fastest-growing market sector.”

The company’s current packaging capabilities include the ability to package products in standard tube-form bags or flexible resealable standup pouch. Select Harvest also has the ability to nitrogen-flush bags, increasing their shelf life. The company can package products ranging from 1.5 ounces to 32 ounces.

California Grown
Select Harvest exports roughly 82 percent of the brown-skin almonds it processes to customers including Kraft, Hershey and M&M/Mars. All of the almonds processed by the company are grown in California by Select Harvest or contract growers. “Almond growing is concentrated in the center and north parts of the state, but we buy almonds from all growing regions in California,” Nunes says.

The company picks up the almonds from a hauling and shelling operation and transports them back to its facilities, where they are weighed and graded based on USDA standards. Almonds are sorted based on size, then examined for chips, splits and other defects by cameras and laser technology. The company then sorts nuts based on customer specifications. “What we specialize in is a product that is very low in foreign materials,” Nunes adds, noting that the company processes almonds with fewer than five bits of foreign materials per metric ton. “We can provide a full array of specifications ranging from almonds going straight into almond butter or marzipan, all the way up to almonds for candy or roasting.”

Meeting High Standards
The company’s Turlock facility processes almond kernels and meats. A second facility in Orland, Calif., processes in-shell almonds. In addition to processing nuts that it sells to the international market, Select Harvest provides pasteurization services to handlers and distributors of other tree nuts including walnuts, almonds and pistachios.

Both of Select Harvest’s facilities use a pasteurization and treatment process that removes pathogens such as salmonella and e-coli from processed nuts. The company processed roughly 55 million pounds of nuts last year, Nunes says.

In May 2014, the Turlock facility attained Safe Quality Food (SQF) Initiative Level 3 standards, the highest possible. “We uphold the highest standards in terms of keeping the product safe for consumers as well as the environment,” Director of Operations Phath Chuon notes.

Chuon credits Select Harvest’s staff for consistently meeting quality standards. The company develops its staff’s skills through regular leadership and technical skills training. “We have a wonderful team here,” he adds.

Select Harvest plans to invest even further in its staff and facilities over the next few years. That includes expanding its growing capacity by developing more of its own orchards. Eventually, the company intends to grow roughly 25 percent of the almonds it processes.

“Becoming more vertically integrated is the best way to survive in the industry,” Nunes says. “We’re truly trying to provide services from the farm straight to the customer’s table.”