MODESTO — Olympic skiers and snowboarders athletes not likely to eat stuff that slows them down snack on almonds from Blue Diamond Growers.
That morsel of news came from Wednesdays annual meeting in Modesto of the grower-owned cooperative, which had record income of nearly $1.2 billion in the year ending Aug. 30.
Blue Diamond leaders said the sponsorship of the U.S. team at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia is further evidence of how far their product has come since research on the health benefits started in the early 1990s.
There was a commonly held belief at the time that almonds contain fat and all fat was bad, said board Chairman Clinton Shick, who grows them in Kern County.
Blue Diamond, already the worlds biggest almond processor, is getting even bigger as the health message spreads and people around the world have more money to spend.
Its a healthy sign for the local economy, too: About 400 people work at the Blue Diamond plant in Salida, which opened in 1969. The 6-month-old Turlock plant employs 76 people and could reach 100 by years end.
Blue Diamond, which has its headquarters and another processing plant in Sacramento, reported a 19 percent income gain over the $1.01 billion the previous year.
Demand is outstripping supply, so we should be on a good road for a long time to come, said board member Kevin Fondse, a grower near Ripon. Its really the best of times for almond growers.
About 1,500 people attended the annual meeting, the 103rd since Blue Diamonds founding in 1910.
Almonds and walnuts are among the strongest performers in a Central Valley farm economy that generally is doing much better than the overall economy.
The growth prompted Blue Diamond to open the Turlock plant, which slices, dices, blanches and grinds almonds that get initial processing in Salida and Sacramento. Shick noted the plants advanced measures for preventing food poisoning, along with its high yield, the amount of marketable product that results from the raw material.
The team in Turlock is getting good at their jobs, and theyre also meeting their targets, said Mark Jansen, president and chief executive officer.
Cooperative leaders noted strong growth across the product lines, including snack nuts under the Bold label, the Almond Breeze milk substitute, and nuts sold to makers of candy, cereal, yogurt and other goods.
A lot of it is product innovation, global marketing, said board member Charles Crivelli, a Turlock-area grower. He also noted the growing number of people around the world with middle-class incomes and a craving for almonds.
The crowd watched a Fox News video clip where health experts touted the nuts. They said a handful of almonds can ease the craving for less healthy foods, helping people to manage their weight.
The skiers and snowboarders are getting Blue Diamond snack nuts while they train in Park City, Utah, for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. Team chef Allen Tran said in a news release that almonds help them sustain their energy during long workouts and competition. He also is working them into recipes, such as an almond and kale pesto.
Speakers at the Modesto meeting warned that the good times might not last, especially almond prices that have soared to about $3 per pound this fall. The states water supply could fall short, the global economy could worsen or almond buyers might balk at rising prices.
The almond market is influenced by a basketful of drivers, most of which the almond industry has no control over, Shick said.
But for one mid-November afternoon, with welcome rain falling outside the hotel doors, no one was complaining.
Prices remain strong, the outlook is firm, so life is good, Shick said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.