Andersen & Sons Shelling Inc
Every year farmers in the U.S. grow more than 1 billion pounds of walnuts. California is by far the largest walnut-growing state and in Tehama County, Andersen & Sons Shelling Inc. has been contributing to the state’s walnut crop for generations. Family-owned Andersen & Sons is a vertically integrated conventional and organic walnut farm, growing, processing and marketing the popular tree nut to domestic and international markets. The farm processes more than 54 million pounds of walnuts a year, making it the sixth largest in The Golden State.
Located in Vina, California, in the Northern Sacramento Valley, the Andersen family farming tradition began in 1904. “My grandfather started farming row crops in 1904 and in 1944 he planted the first walnut trees; he farmed walnuts and prunes from then on,” says Mike Andersen, co-owner of Andersen & Sons, who works alongside his father, Frank and two brothers, Pat and Ralph.
After returning from college in 2001, Mike came back to the family business and the company added walnut processing to the lineup. “Back then we processed 1 million pounds of our own walnuts and some for neighboring farms,” recounts Mike. “You can see a huge growth curve since then because we now grow and process more than 54 million pounds of our own walnuts and more for a range of regional farms.”
Harvest to shipment
With a sizable team of more than 135 employees and a 120,000-square-foot site for shelling and processing, Andersen & Sons offers the full scope in walnut production. The team integrates years of market experience and marketing information as well as leading packing technology to help capture greater profits for farms. “We started as farmers, so we understand the importance of a company that can help process and market the finished product,” says Mike.
Once the harvest comes in, the outer green husk is removed by a huller and walnuts are mechanically dehydrated to maintain the optimum 8 percent moisture level. Finally, the nuts are hand-sorted by Andersen & Sons trained sorters and are ready for packing after being certified by DFA for quality and USDA standards.
Products to count on
Andersen & Sons ships conventional and organic walnuts in-shell and in various kernel types to many foreign markets as far away as Japan, Australia, South Korea and Germany. No matter the destination, Mike says product traceability is always at the forefront of Andersen & Sons’ mission.
“More than ever before, consumers want to know that their food is safe, fresh and where it comes from,” he says. “We believe our brand demonstrates the connection between this freshness, quality and trust.”
Andersen & Sons maintains a secure food processing plant by having experienced personnel oversee all incoming and outgoing products. “We developed our own custom tracking system to address the unique challenges in processing walnuts,” says Mike. “Our facility is Safe Quality Food [SQF] certified and we were one of the first in our industry to be.” In addition to SQF, Andersen & Sons is kosher, Food Security and HACCP certified.
All incoming product is thoroughly identified and labeled with a bin ID tag and given a lot number, which remains with that product throughout its entire process. DFA inspects both incoming and outgoing product. Employees are well-educated on the rules and regulations of the facility. Signs have been posted at every entrance to remind employees and visitors of what is expected upon entering the plant.
Keeping a close eye on food safety and product traceability has become even more important as Andersen & Sons looks to add more organic production. “Since we expanded organics we have wooden crates that keep things in order to separate organic and conventional items,” explains Mike. “We clean in between shifts and shell and clean and pack at the same time to make sure there’s no cross-contamination.”
Meeting organics demand
Andersen & Sons currently has a small stake in the organics market, but is looking to ramp up production to meet increasing demand for organic walnuts. “We’re looking to convert some of our acreage to organic because supplies are short and demand is high; we need more volume as an industry,” says Mike.
In 2009, the company received its California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) certification, which Mike says has helped Andersen & Sons gain access to some larger retailers searching for organic products. “CCOF has helped us gain greater access to a niche market and we’ve found that it not only helps us market organic, but conventional too,” he explains. “If we can sell a retailer organic, we can likely sell them conventional so this has helped opened up doors for us.”
Mike says Andersen & Sons is helping partner growers interested in getting into organic production to navigate the process. “There is a lot of documentation to begin this process and it makes it difficult for farmers who are already bogged down trying to implement the conversion,” he says.
Lending a hand to fellow farmers and always being open to negotiation on the sales side has helped Andersen & Sons forge strong relationships. “We have strong ties on the sales and grower side, which is important for us as a fairly young marketing company,” says Mike. “We want to sell to the people we’re selling to for the next 25 years or more, so the discussion is more than price. When I go into a sales meeting I ask, ‘What can I do to help you sell more walnuts and what are your challenges?’ You don’t get anywhere fighting on price and being adversarial.”
With strong industry ties, leading facilities that enhance food safety and product integrity and new prospects in a hot market, Andersen & Sons Shelling builds on a family name for top products.