According to Mark Jansen, Blue Diamond Growers is a 100-year-old brand that is just now reaching its potential. It’s this goal of establishing the Blue Diamond brand as the world’s No. 1 producer of almonds and almond-related products that lured the lifelong Midwesterner to California with his family late last summer.
Jansen, now president and CEO of Blue Diamond, says he’s always been fascinated by the concepts of marketing. He earned his MBA in marketing and finance from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1994. Prior to joining Blue Diamond, he was president of Schwan’s Food Service Inc. in Marshall, Minn., where he led the profitable turnaround of the division.
“I think what I bring to the table for Blue Diamond is my experience in building, managing and leading brands,” he says. “What I’ve found here is an incredible framework for taking this to the next level internationally.
“Fortunately for us, we have an incredibly attractive product to pitch. Not only do almonds taste good, they offer a plethora of health and wellness benefits. Almonds are a good source of fiber, vitamin E, magnesium and many other minerals. Oprah recently described almonds as a superfood.”
In addition to spreading the word about the good flavor and health benefits of almonds, Blue Diamond continues to launch value-added products, such as almond milk, cookies and crackers.
“Our goal is to continue to expand the ways that people can enjoy the benefits of almonds,” Jansen says. “In a relatively new market for us — refrigerated almond products — we did more than $100 million in retail sales. That kind of number in a new product line doesn’t happen very often.”
While the geography is dramatically different here compared to his stomping grounds in the Midwest, Jansen says one other difference stands out.
“I don’t feel the agriculture industry as a whole in California gets the appreciation it deserves in terms of the overall economic impact it has on commerce,” he says. Agricultural jobs might only represent 3 percent of the state’s work force, but farmers create hundreds of other jobs through the purchase of equipment, fertilizer, shipping and packaging, he says.
“To create new jobs,” he says, “state policymakers need to keep in mind the importance that agriculture plays as an economic driver.”
• Occupation: Last October, Jansen was selected to serve as president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers. Prior to relocating to Northern California, he had served much of his career in Minnesota leading brand growth for such product lines as HÃ¤agen-Dazs, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and Wolfgang Puck.
• Personal: Jansen, 43, met his wife, Carolyn, while attending high school in a small town in Iowa. They now reside in Loomis with three children: Holly, 16; Lindsey, 12; and Noah, 6.
• Slopes: “As a family we’re enjoying visiting the snow in Tahoe instead of living in it in Minnesota. I’m an avid but average snowboarder,” he says. “My daughters also snowboard, and my son skis.”
• Almonds: Headquartered in Sacramento, Blue Diamond Growers is a cooperative comprised of more than 3,000 California almond growers. The crop is marketed to all 50 states and more than 90 countries.
• Lunch: At Centro Cocina Mexicana, Jansen orders the Yucatan mahi mahi, marinated in achiote and citrus juices with a salsa of avocado, orange, radish and cilantro and an order of whole black beans.
Richard Waycott says there are no silver bullets in the remarkable double-digit growth of California almond exports to China but rather a carefully honed strategy built on introducing almonds to a “pre-existing snacking culture.”
Pulling up to the bland business park that is home to La Tourangelle’s nut oil bottling facility gives no indication of the nexus of culinary artistry housed inside.
But step through the doors and start talking to Matthieu Kohlmeyer, the energetic founder and CEO of the Woodland company, and you’ll discover that this quiet farming town is home to a vibrant French connection and a business that’s ridden the wave of consumer health trends and successfully plugged into the farm-to-fork movement.