Hughson Nut Incorporated
In 1985, three families of almond growers came together to form Hughson Nut Incorporated (Hughson Nut). For 30 years, the business has grown, processing, packing and shipping whole and sliced almonds for consumers throughout the United States and abroad. In 2015, the Pohl family, the Baker family and the Angle family still grow the almonds for the company’s operations on their privately owned farms. The business also has an almond grove onsite at the processing facility in Hughson, California.
Martin Pohl is one of the original founders of the business. He serves as company president alongside founding partners, Barry and Byron Baker, and Ty Angle. The partners ensure a strong supply chain for the processing business as well as quality, food safety and efficiency. Hughson nut employs 230 people at the plant and distributes product to retail chains, wholesalers and secondary processors throughout the world. Approximately half of the company’s products stay within the United States, while the other half are packed for export and shipped abroad.
A focus on quality
While Hughson Nut products can be found all over the world, consumers will likely not recognize the brand from packaging. “We do not have any of our own brand names in the store,” Martin explains. “That has never been our goal. We were all in agriculture when we started the company and we wanted to take this food a step further. We are happy to operate as a pre-process operation. We do not sell a finished food to people. We put most of our product in either 2000-pound shippers or packaging as small as a 25-pound box, which we sell to distributors. Those may go to bakeries or other types of food processors.”
The company is moving toward co-packing for select retail customers. The team is in the process of installing machinery to do smaller packages with private labeling capabilities in house. Many of Hughson Nut’s customers already sell the company’s products, but send almonds to other companies for secondary processing and packaging. By incorporating this service into existing operations, Hughson Nut will be able to improve value for these customers and improve efficiency in the supply chain.
Hughson Nut is undergoing several changes in 2015. In the wake of the food safety modernization act (FSMA), the business has been modifying operations steadily for two years, upgrading facilities to meet and exceed regulations set by the FDA. “We actually have to reconfigure all the processing in our plants because of the food safety requirements,” Martin explains. “When raw product comes in from the orchards we have to keep that separate from ready-to-eat products. We have more or less had to divide our production facilitates in half. This has been a big change for everyone in the industry.”
Technology is also a major component in the company’s continued growth and success. Martin and his competitors are constantly working to improve efficiencies. Hughson Nut is making plant upgrades to move product through the process more quickly while maintaining consistent standards of quality. “Electronic sorting, laser sorters and robotics are all becoming integrated into the industry,” Martin says. “It is happening slowly and it is an expensive process, but we are constantly upgrading portions of our plant every year.”
Martin and his team have also invested heavily in sustainability upgrades for the operation. “Here in California, the drought is an extremely complicated issue,” he elaborates. “We have environmental concerns, agricultural concerns and we have a lot of people who use water. In the San Francisco Bay area and other coastal areas, there is no way to store water when it rains. It runs off into the ocean and is lost. We would like to have drinking water come from snow or retained in a reservoir. Another concern is the underground water supply, which is overtaxed already. Right now, we have had three years of a drought and not much rain.”
To fight the drought and reduce the company’s impact on the environment, Hughson Nut recycles all water used in the plant. After it is used in several processes, such as blanching, the company reuses grey water to irrigate the onsite orchards. “We don’t waste any water,” Martin notes. “We also have solar power on our plants. We don’t generate all the power we use, but we generate 50 percent through solar and put it back into the grid to use later. We are working very much toward sustainability. 20 years ago, that wasn’t a word I understood well like I do today. If we don’t make agriculture more sustainable, we won’t be in agriculture for much longer.”
On the sales end of the operation, Martin and his crew have seen significant growth in several foreign markets, particularly in Europe and Asia. India and China are rapidly growing in terms of sales with more potential for expansion. International markets can be finicky and external factors such as political unrest and economic instability can affect profitability. To battle these potential obstacles, Hughson Nut focuses on stabilizing business via meeting consumer demand. For example, the company’s blanched almonds are popular throughout Europe. As that market grows, Martin and his crew are ramping up capabilities to meet demand.
Martin foresees organic growth for the business over the coming years. “By nature it will all grow,” he says. “We have never been focused on getting bigger. We just want to offer the best product and improve the efficiency of our operations.”
By improving sustainability and efficiency while maintaining a focus on quality and food safety, Hughson Nut Incorporated will continue to stand out as a strong mid-sized player in the fruit and nut industry in California.