Crown Nut Co., operated by Mike Sandhu and members of his family, is shipping an average of 44,000 pounds a day — the equivalent of a 40-foot steel container — mostly to overseas markets.
“Almond consumption is climbing each year all over the world,” Sandhu said. “We are seeing major increases for almonds in places like India and China.”
He said Indians have been eating almonds, mostly as snack food, for centuries, and a growing middle class that is becoming more health-conscious is boosting consumption. In China, where consumer buying power has exploded in recent years, almonds are used mostly in traditional Chinese dishes.
And in Europe, candy makers are a prime customer for California almonds, which account for nearly 75 percent of worldwide production.
The majority of almonds being processed at the Chrisman Road facility — a $6 million investment — come from more than 5,000 acres of Sandhu almond orchards, mostly in the Tracy area. Young trees will be coming online in the next few years, and another 1,000 acres are being planted with almonds this year.
Once they are shaken from trees, the almonds are trucked to the Chrisman Road facility, where operations are centered in a 24,000-square-foot building completed a year ago and expanded by a 12,000-square-feet addition. A 24,000 square-foot warehouse building is now under construction.
The plant has a capacity of processing 100,000 pounds of almonds daily. At this point, 44,000 pounds of almonds in the shell and up to 18,000 pounds of shelled almonds are being processed each day.
The 45 employees work in shifts every day of the week, first removing the hulls, then cleaning and grading almonds remaining in shells, a majority of the crop.
Those that are shelled have the meat graded and sized by electronic and human sorting before being placed in 50-pound cardboard containers for shipment.
The in-shell almonds go into 50-pound plastic bags to be shipped.
Many of the containers carry the almonds to the Port of Oakland for overseas delivery. Exports are expected to account for half of California’s 2012 record crop of nearly 2 billion pounds of meats produced from 750,000 bearing acres.
Although production is up because of increased plantings, this year’s almond crop has come in slightly below original projections, increasing demand and boosting prices, Sandhu said.
“We used to get a few calls each day for orders. Now we get 25 or 30, and we can’t fill them all,” he said.
Little goes to waste. The hulls are sold to dairies and cattle operations for feed, and shells become feed, too, after soaking up nutrients from silage.
Mike Sandhu’s son, P.J., recently returned from China, which for the first time has become the leading export destination for almonds from California.
P.J. Sandhu is heading the processing and sales end of the Sandhu almond operation, and another son, Aman, is managing the farming.
The future of growing, processing and shipping nuts looks bright, said Mike Sandhu, who came to the Tracy area from Merced in 1996.
“We expect to double almond production every two years,” he said, “and next year we will begin processing and shipping walnuts.”