Small producer case study: gourmet pickled walnuts (Part 2)

Small landholders, Andrew and Bettina Pretsel, are giving pickled walnuts a new lease of life and turning a small niche product into a hit with gourmet food customers.

Selling the product
There is currently a small niche market for pickled walnuts as they are a largely unknown product. They have a long shelf life which is an advantage when building new markets.

“Educating consumers to something completely new is always a slow process, so we’re not expecting any enormous demand in the short term!” Bettina said.

The Pretsel’s first product release saw the walnuts sold in 260g jars in traditional malt vinegar pickle that goes well with ales and lagers. Those were followed by an apple cider vinegar and then a white wine vinegar pickle. 

To encourage first-time customers to buy a jar of an unknown product, small sample packs of sliced pickled walnuts were added to the range. These packs have proved popular with liquor stores and as handy snacks for travellers.

The bulk pack followed, which for safety and ease of postal delivery is a non-glass, resealable container, suitable for chefs, restaurants and gourmet stores.

“The biggest challenge is finding the right place to sell the pickled walnuts. There are definitely people out there who want to buy them, but because it is a special type of item, you need to find which places to approach."

"We have found family owned retailers have really embraced the product and enjoy having something unique and special to offer their customers. We’re also getting them into restaurants now. We’re hoping consumers will see them on the menu and try them, and then go looking to buy them. It is very similar to selling wine, in that we need to do tastings.”

The pickled walnuts are also available online and the number of retail outlets continues to grow.

The Pretsels have also found that farmers’ markets provide potential leads and are the perfect opportunity to promote products to local and interstate travellers who often attend these markets.

“We always keep something different or special to sell at the markets where we have time to talk to customers about our products.”

Using the product
Recipes are gradually being added to the Pretsel’s website along with new taste sensations available in limited quantities from their online shop.

“Pickled walnuts add to the flavour of other foods without dominating. They can be used as an ingredient in dishes such as meatballs or stews or they can be served with foods containing fat and/or protein, for example roasted cuts of meat or seafood. The best thing of all that goes with pickled walnuts would have to be pork belly,” said Bettina.

They are an excellent addition to cheese platters, combining well with feta cheeses, pears, apples and fresh walnuts.

Costs and time frame
To start from scratch, Bettina estimates there is a long lead time before trees can produce commercial quantities. Even with a copious supply of nuts at their disposal it still took the Pretsels three or four years of research, experimentation and marketing trials to develop and perfect the product.

Apart from the land and trees, other capital costs to consider include a commercial kitchen, a suitable vehicle for transporting produce and the usual running costs associated with a small business.

Lessons learnt
Along the way the Pretsel’s have learnt some valuable lessons:

• do the research

• allow yourself time to adjust to learnings

• make decisions carefully

• make time for your business

• learn as much as you can before you start – understand each process and step in the production chain

• don’t be afraid to experiment – try something new (but try to do it using disposable income).

Forgotten food
Forgotten foods are part of a food education movement that is currently developing around the world.

There is a return to customers wanting to be in touch with where their products come from, particularly where food is concerned. As a result, there may be scope and opportunity to reinvent other food that has gone ‘out of fashion’ or been long ‘forgotten’ to fill niche markets.

The future
Bettina and Andrew are looking to expand their pickled walnut business with plans for a commercial kitchen to develop new products.

They are also on the lookout for new recipes to add to their website, with the aim of eventually creating a recipe and history book for publication.

Thanks to our friends at DAFWA for use of the article.

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