Paramount processing After I express curiosity about processing tech- niques, Becky suggests I join her and Costco nut eam members Sheri Flies and Michael Yi on a quick visit to the almond harvest in California’s Great Central Valley. I jump at the chance and soon find myself out- side Lost Hills (about 80 miles southwest of Fresno). It is home to Paramount Farming Company, the largest grower of almonds and pistachios in the world. The company is also one of Costco’s suppli- ers for Kirkland Signature almonds and Kirkland Signature California pistachios. Our host is Paramount Farming Company president Joe MacIlvaine. We talk about the trans- formation of nuts from baking ingredients to healthy snacks and the mounting stack of scientific evidence suggesting that including most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and act as a weight-gain deterrent. This isbecause manynuts are an excellent source of antioxidants, tummy-filling fiber, vegetarian pro- tein, healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—the same kind of healthy fat found in olive oil—and vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium for strong bones, phosphorous, iron, potassium, and vitamins E and B (including folic acid, important for expectant mothers). We stop to watch a mechanical tree shaker
approach a nearby almond tree, grasp its trunk and
shake. The tree’s peach-like almond fruit rain down.
I am mesmerized.
The next stop is Paramount’s high-tech processing facility. It is enormous and takes us almost
two hours to tour. A U.S. Department of Agriculture
inspector is always on-site during operations.
A mechanical tree-shaker
showers almond fruit for
harvest. Kirkland Signature
almonds are U.S. No. 1 grade
key to success
Costco’s nut programs involve a focus on environmental and community sustainability.
AS PART OF Costco’s sourcing strategy, it
considers viable ways the Kirkland Signature
nut program can give back to the communities that produce the products.
For example, I learn that currently 35 percent of the world’s raw cashews are grown in
Africa; the majority are processed in Vietnam
and India. Costco is working with others to
help develop local processing in Africa to
increase the economic viability of cashew-farming communities there for the Kirkland
Signature Whole Fancy Cashew program.
At the moment, the group is looking for
ways to utilize the cashew apple, the fruit of
the cashew tree and a potentially valuable
byproduct that is now discarded.
Every time you eat a Kirkland Signature
nut, remember this: Costco is always looking
for ways to take the quality of this program
way beyond taste and nutrition.—PV
While snacking on Kirkland Signature/Every-body’s Nuts Salt & Pepper Pistachios, we spend time
talking about this tasty nut.
I’m told Costco requires all Kirkland Signature
pistachios—which are U.S. Extra No. 1 grade—to
be hulled and dried within 24 hours of harvest. And
while some processors may blend in cheaper,
immature, mechanically opened pistachios or use
bleach to stain shells unnaturally white, Costco
specifications do not allow such practices. Costco’s
pistachios open naturally on the tree and are simply
Paramount’s list of environmentally sustainable programs is impressive. We visit the company’s
recently built private solar field. It is one of the largest in the country, and the energy it produces is
used to help run the processing facility. Additionally,
waste byproducts, such as hulls and shells, are sold
as cattle feed, and nontoxic pesticides are utilized.
NOVEMBER 2009 The Costco Connection 87
Walnuts and almonds
The team’s next stop is Winters, California
(about 35 miles west of Sacramento), at Costco
supplier Mariani Nut Company, one of the largest
privately held walnut and almond processors in
Third-generation owner Marty Mariani and
director John Aguiar show us around. They are very
proud of their long-term relationship with Costco.
While Sheri and I try our hand at working a
mechanical almond tree shaker, Aguiar tells us, “For
over 15 years Costco has entrusted us with their private-label brand. We don’t take such a responsibility
lightly. Quality is always discussed first, never price.
I know of no other major retailer who demands such
When pressed for examples of Costco’s requirements, he pulls me away from the tree shaker and
walks me to the almond processing plant. Together
we count the 16 cleaning and grading steps Costco
almonds must pass.
Aguiar returns repeatedly to Costco’s insistence
on the highest quality. He reports, “The U.S. No. 1
Nonpareil Supremes specified for the 3-pound bag of
Kirkland Signature whole almonds are the most
expensive and sought-after almond of any variety.
They are king of the snacking almonds and recognized for their rich, sweet flavor, attractive uniform
appearance and crisp bite.” (Kirkland Signature
walnuts are California U.S. No. 1 grade.)
Mariani’s sustainability efforts are also impressive. Recycling is a top priority, natural clay-based
pest deterrent is sprayed on trees to repel insects,
free employee wellness and nutrition classes are
offered and a college scholarship program for local
students is in its 20th year. (Aguiar is rightfully
proud to be the first graduate.)
As we head to the airport, I reflect on the quality
that Costco demands for its 13-item Kirkland
Signature nut program, its partnered suppliers and
the results: always at a savings, always divine. You’d
have to be nuts not to try them! C