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Interesting, challenging times for the nut industry

With endless information streaming into our lives and new actions being taken around the COVID-19 virus every day, it has many of us, including myself, asking the question: What now? How do I keep my business operating? How do I protect the health and safety of my employees? How long is this going to last? Can I get a refund on my U2 concert tickets? While we don’t have answers to all the questions, I find it helpful to recap what we know for sure, especially as it relates to the nut processing industry.

What we know:

California and many other places, have issued a “shelter in place” order, which states:

“All individuals are ordered to shelter at their place of residence.”


“All Essential Businesses are strongly encouraged to remain open. To the greatest extent feasible, Essential Businesses shall comply with Social Distancing Requirements”

Skipping ahead to what is an “essential businesses”:

Manual nut sorting

Any form of agricultural production and processing, including the cultivation of products for personal consumption or use through farming, ranching, livestock, and fishing, as well as business activities that support production and processing by providing essential agricultural supplies and services, including but not limited to, transportation, manufacturing, chemicals, equipment, and services such as cooling, storing, packaging, and distribution of such products for wholesale or retail sale.”

Based on this definition, we are told to keep running, keep producing food, but figure out a way to do it with less people, social distancing rules Six feet apart, washing hands often and all the other hygiene guidelines. This is not only a challenge to our businesses, but it is deeper than that; it is a responsibility and a duty we all share to ensure people have access to the food they need. 

empty supermarkets

As processors, we also must be prepared that the global production of many tree nuts will have record breaking crops for 2020. These nuts still need to be handled, stored, processed and shipped regardless of what happens with the COVID-19 virus.

So, what do we do?  We have larger crops coming, we have increasing minimum wages, our labor force is getting tighter, our customers are demanding more product with higher quality and food safety standards, and on top of all this, we have to maintain social distancing rules, meaning even if you had the people for hand sorting, they would have to be far enough apart that you could only run a minimal crew.

We realize that we must find a way to keep all our processing businesses operating, which means COVID-19 has forced us to push our processing operations into the future a little faster than we may have planned.  We’ve all been planning for how to run our operations with minimal labor in the future, and now it seems the future has arrived a little earlier than expected.

Almond sorting

Speaking with a customer of ours yesterday he mentioned (I’m paraphrasing): “Thank God we put in that new line last year. With this skeleton crew, there’s no way we would be making shipments on time if not for those new sorters.” Combine all of this with the fact that banks are aggressively looking to lend money for new equipment projects at near 0% interest, and the stars have aligned to push that project forward.

There is no doubt that we face challenging times over the next months, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but rest assured that TOMRA Food is taking all possible steps to support your business. We are here for you.

Topics: Nuts, News article, Food Trends

Brendan O'Donnell

Written by Brendan O'Donnell

Brendan O'Donnell, Global Category Director (Nuts) at TOMRA Food, is also a member of the INC Scientific and Government Affairs Committee – a collection of academics and industry experts who work collaboratively to monitors scientific and technical issues related to international and supranational regulations, food safety and agricultural quality standards.