A new magazine ad for California walnuts shows people kicking and hitting them like they would soccer balls and tennis balls.
The message: The nuts can help keep you healthy.
That pretty much describes the industry itself, which continues to find buyers around the world for the state's burgeoning crop.
About 150 growers gathered Thursday near Modesto to hear about the promotional efforts.
They center on the idea that walnuts, once considered a treat to be eaten sparingly, actually are a source of "good" fat.
Research over the past two decades suggests walnuts can help protect people against cancer and heart disease, while improving brain function and male reproductive health, said Michelle McNeil, a senior marketing director at the California Walnut Commission.
"These studies give us more reasons to tell consumers that walnuts are good for them," she said.
The University of California Cooperative Extension hosted the meeting at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, off Crows Landing Road.
The commission, funded by assessments on growers, will spend $2 million on the magazine campaign over a year. It targets nine U.S. publications read mostly by women, including Cooking Light, Martha Stewart Living and Sunset.
"California Walnuts Natural Defenders of the Human Body," the full-page ads read.
The effort is similar to that of the state's almond industry, which is much bigger than the walnut industry.
California walnut growers harvested an estimated 992 million pounds last year, up from about 564 million a decade earlier and just shy of the record crop in 2010.
The average per-pound price that growers got last year has not been reported, but it could compare well with the record $1.46 in 2011. The average in 2002 was 59 cents.
"We're seeing prices go up at the same time production goes up," said Dennis Balint, the commission's chief executive officer. "Why? Because we have strong demand."
The farm price is only part of what consumers pay, which includes processing, marketing and other costs.
Some of the nuts go into snack bags or packages for home cooks, but the majority become ingredients for makers of candy, cereal, baked goods and other products.
Domestic consumers eat 42 percent of the state's crop, Balint said. China is the leading export market, followed by Germany, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and Japan.
A weak dollar continues to make walnuts and other U.S. products attractive to foreign buyers.
Walnut growing and processing employs a few thousand people in the Central Valley. The industry also provides business for nurseries that sell young walnut trees, several of them in Stanislaus County.
Orestimba Nursery, near Crows Landing, has sold out its inventory for this year and next year and is close to doing so for 2015, owner Norman Crow said this week.
He, too, noted the health message, spread with the help of Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Mehmet Oz on television.
Crow, the fifth generation in the pioneer family that gave Crows Landing its name, also has his own walnut orchards.
"We're enjoying some absolutely fantastic opportunities right now," he said.
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San Joaquin County led the state in walnut production in 2011, with an estimated $278.9 million in gross income to growers.
Stanislaus County was among the leaders at $175.7 million.
California grows 99 percent of the U.S. walnut supply and accounts for three-fourths of the world trade. The state's growers had an estimated $1.32 billion in gross income in 2011.
Studies suggest that moderate consumption of walnuts can help protect people from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. They are an especially potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help the heart. Although walnuts are high in fat, little of it is saturated, the unhealthiest kind.
Walnut cultivation is believed to have started in southwest Asia in about 7000 B.C. The nuts were popular in ancient Greece and Rome. Spanish missionaries brought the trees to California about 1770. The state's commercial production started in Santa Barbara County about 1870. The Central Valley dominates today.
On the Net: www.walnuts.org
Sources: California Department of Food and Agriculture, California Walnut Commission, county crop reports