Blue Diamond reveals plans for new Turlock plant

jholland@modbee.comNovember 16, 2011 

— Blue Diamond Growers revealed a few details Wednesday about the almond processing plant it plans to build in Turlock, though the number of jobs is still unknown.

The plant is scheduled to open at about 200,000 square feet in May 2013 and reach about 500,000 square feet within 15 years, board chairman Clinton Shick said at the cooperative’s 101st annual meeting in Modesto.

The plant will manufacture various almond products, taking on some of the work done at Blue Diamond’s headquarters in Sacramento. Its Salida plant, which will remain in operation, does basic processing of plain almonds.

“This is an expansion plan, not a relocation plan,” Shick said. “Our business is booming, and we need more room to grow.”

Blue Diamond, the world’s largest almond producer, announced last month that it had bought 88 acres at Fulkerth and Washington roads, on Turlock’s west side.

The cooperative does not disclose the processing capacity at its current or future sites, but it’s clear that Turlock is a major expansion. Shick called it “the largest single capital expenditure in our history.”

The estimated cost was not available.

The 39-acre Salida site, which opened in 1968, employs about 300 people. It receives about two-thirds of Blue Diamond’s almond crop, produced by about 3,000 member growers in the Central Valley.

The Sacramento plant receives the rest of the crop and does slicing, flavoring and other advanced processing. Some almonds end up in products under the Blue Diamond label, such as snack nuts or a milk-like beverage called Almond Breeze. Others go to companies that make candy, breakfast cereal and other products.

Blue Diamond spokeswoman Susan Brauner said it’s too early to say what products will be made in Turlock. She added that Sacramento and Salida employees will have preference for jobs at the new plant.

It will have the latest technology for keeping almonds safe to eat and for getting the most product out of each harvested pound, Shick said.

Blue Diamond leaders said they got plenty of cooperation with the planning from Turlock city officials, some of whom attended the meeting Wednesday.

“It’s very, very important to Turlock to have a great company like Blue Diamond Growers choose to expand into our community,” City Manager Roy Wasden said.

“I’m really excited,” Mayor John Lazar said. “It’s a game-changer.”

The California almond crop has doubled in the past decade, to an estimated 1.95 billion pounds this year. The state grows more than 80 percent of the world’s supply, taking advantage of research suggesting that almonds have many health benefits.

The Turlock plant will reinforce Stanislaus County’s prominent role in the industry. It is the third-largest grower, behind Kern and Fresno counties, and has several smaller processors along with Blue Diamond.

The cooperative had a record $825 million in sales over the past year, said Mark Jansen, president and chief executive officer. “We have an industry that ... is doubling every 10 years,” he said. “We have a brand that is unparalleled.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at (209) 578-2385.

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