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Processing

Just four years after organizing the California Almond Growers Exchange, the cooperative pioneered almond processing and manufacturing by building a one-story shelling plant on C Street in Sacramento in 1914. It cost $5,500! Just outside the back door was the railroad track where burlap bags of almonds could be delivered from local receiving stations. After packing, the 25-pound wooden boxes of almonds could easily be loaded and shipped by rail across the country.

In 1916, more land was acquired and a warehouse was built to store almonds delivered from local districts. By 1919, a five-story concrete building was built to encompass the original building. By 1925, the plant employed 249 people.

Early almond packaging using wooden boxes in the 1920s.
Early almond packaging using wooden boxes in the 1920s.
In 1926, the Exchange designed manufacturing equipment to blanch, salt and roast almonds that were then packaged for retail sale in glass jars and tins in five-pound cartons or put in barrels for ice cream manufacturers. Two years later, more equipment was added to separate different varieties of almonds. Innovative engineers developed processing equipment to ground, split, slice and dice them for use as an ingredient primarily in ice cream.

By 1931, the crop had grown to 20 million pounds delivered by four thousand almond growers and sales totaled $2 million. The cooperative innovated grading, shelling and additional manufacturing processes to increase market share for the crop and grow demand. Mechanical test grading of every grower delivery was introduced in 1931 for evaluating quality and size of almonds at the Sacramento plant. Growers were also encouraged to convert to about seven key varieties versus the 70 varieties that existed. The Blue Diamond brand stamped on every package leaving the plant had become synonymous for high quality standards and excellent service. The predominant Spanish and Italian importers were taking notice of California's new almond production and processing capabilities.

Between 1915 and 1938, the main business office was located in San Francisco. For closer contact with almond growers, headquarters permanently moved to Sacramento where a two-story office building facing the plant was built in 1939.

In the post-war economy of the late 1940s, the Exchange courted ice cream, bakery and consumer markets with new products. In 1949, the six-ounce can of Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds was first introduced and import quotas were established on nuts from abroad. This was also the era of major advances in mechanization not only in the orchard but also in the plant: electric eye sorters, faster packaging machines, new roasting and drying equipment and bulk boxes replaced sacks for grower deliveries. In the office, computers increased productivity.

In the 1950s, the Exchange added 14 concrete silos for almond storage, a fumigation system to protect stored nuts, a quality control department and a new product development laboratory. In the 1960s through the 1970s, the Exchange was selling over 40 different manufactured forms of almonds for ingredient users and California almond consumption had spread to every continent and all major countries. The Exchange opened a sales office in Japan and initiated sales in the former Soviet Union, China and India. Foil packets of Blue Diamond Smokehouse almonds were being served on many major airlines.

A deal is struck in the 1970s for Blue Diamond almonds to be served on Japan Airlines.
A deal is struck in the 1970s for Blue Diamond almonds to be served on Japan Airlines.
In 1967, bulk receiving replaced box deliveries growers. A new three-story combination cold storage and manufacturing plant was built on 19th and C streets in Sacramento. The following year, the Salida Receiving station opened just 3 miles north of Modesto and in 1969-70, the Sacramento plant capacity nearly doubled. Two years later, the Exchange added a distribution center, cold storage and inshell facility. More bulk storage was also added in Salida, all in preparation for the record crops that began arriving in 1974.

A trend to on-farm hulling and shelling brought new bulk meat storage facilities in Sacramento and Salida in the mid-1970s and a processing line at Salida in 1979. In the 1980s the Del Monte cannery next to the Sacramento plant was purchased for additional manufacturing, storage, a visitor's center and an office facility; and the Exchange officially changed its name to Blue Diamond Growers.

In mid-1995, Sacramento was re-confirmed as the best location for its now nearly 90 acres of plant operations. This launched a 10-year, $30 million plant improvement program that resulted in an agreement with the City of Sacramento to create an enclosed, gated Blue Diamond campus with security for a safer neighborhood. Blue Diamond streamlined nearly every aspect of its plant operations as it entered the 21st Century with billion pound crops and adopted the best new technologies to produce the safest, highest quality almonds in the world.

Blue Diamond continues to invest in state of the art technologies in 2010 and beyond as crops climb to over 1.5 billion pounds and global demand exceeds previous records. New regulations designed to enforce strict quality and food safety standards, to regulate clean air and water and assure employee safety require close attention to meeting, and even exceeding, the best manufacturing practices to satisfy ever-increasing global customer expectations.