Hazelnut Growers of Oregon looking for JV partner in healthy snack category

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Hazelnuts present an exceptional opportunity for growth in the US healthy snack sector. Pic: GettyImages/AndrisTkachenko
Hazelnuts present an exceptional opportunity for growth in the US healthy snack sector. Pic: GettyImages/AndrisTkachenko

Related tags Hazelnut Growers of Oregon Wilco Healthy snacks

The Hazelnut Growers of Oregon (HGO) is seeking a partner to form a joint venture (JV) to build on the early success of its retail consumer product business in the rapidly growing better-for-you snack category.

The business unit of the farmer-owned cooperative Wilco represents more than 200 hazelnut growers who collectively own in excess of 20,000 acres of orchards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, accounting for approximately 20% of the hazelnut orchards in the US. 

The partner will help HGO further expand the reach of its suite of hazelnut-based natural, seasoned and confectionery consumer products marketed under the Oregon Orchard brand.

The attraction of the nut

According to HGO, the market opportunity for hazelnuts is extensive, ticking the key product attributes that consumers are demanding today – being nutritious, clean label, planet-friendly, plant-based and of course, tasty.

The nuts are a nutritional powerhouse, packed with protein, fibre, folate, antioxidants, vitamins B and E, and omega-6 and 9. They are also low in sugar, are gluten-free and keto- and paleo-friendly.

HGO’s nuts are sustainably grown on family farms in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where the moderate climate, ample precipitation and rich volcanic soil provide ideal growing conditions. Hazelnut trees are self-pollinating and bee-friendly and use much less water than other domestic nut crops. The hazelnuts are non-GMO certified and are steam pasteurized, using no chemicals.

Despite these advantages, hazelnuts remain a largely untapped opportunity in the US, accounting for just 7% of the country’s total nut sales. In fact, per capita consumption of hazelnuts is nine times higher in Europe than in the US, presenting an exceptional opportunity for growth. Additionally, there is currently no leading national brand exclusively associated with hazelnuts as a snack.

Established experience

“We have had impressive early market traction with our Oregon Orchard consumer brand, but to maximise this line we need the support of a larger player with established experience in consumer product brands and resources to invest in the partnership,”​ said Greg Thorsgard, COO of HGO.

HGO is looking for a JV partner to control branding, sales and operations.

The partners will be given access to HGO’s SQF-3 certified production facility in Donald, Oregon, which processes whole kernel, sliced, diced, meal and paste/butter format of hazelnuts. It will also take on HGO’s existing product portfolio, which includes 36 SKUs of savoury, confectionary and natural hazelnut products; 7 SKUs of food service hazelnut products; and 26 SKUs of hazelnut-based ingredients. There are also new products in the pipeline.

HGO has also built strong product development, operating and sales teams.

“HGO has made a significant investment in the operation and is in a strong position to help drive the business forward together with a strategic partner,”​ said Thorsgard.

“The joint venture will provide HGO’s partner with the ability to quickly and successfully deliver HGO’s products under the partner’s branding into a growing market without a large upfront investment.”

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