Blue Diamond Growers marked its 110-year anniversary last month with announcements about the completion of two key infrastructure expansions in the 209.

The almond processor completed the expansion of its Turlock facility less than 15 months after breaking ground on the project.

The 52,000 square foot addition to the existing 200,000 square foot facility is one of two major expansions for Blue Diamond, a nonprofit grower-owned cooperative and the world’s leading processor and marketer of almonds. The other, in Salida, was completed in May.

ANGELINA MARTIN/209 Business Journal
Blue Diamond Growers recently announced the expansion of its Turlock manufacturing plant — a 52,000 square foot addition to the existing 200,000 square foot facility — is complete.

The new Turlock expansion increases Blue Diamond’s value-added almond processing capabilities with an automated factory that features state-of-the-art handling, processing and packaging equipment and also provides space for a future manufacturing line to support both current business or new innovations.

The completion of the expansion comes as Blue Diamond celebrates its 110th anniversary and just seven years after its Turlock facility opened. Since 2013, Turlock’s Blue Diamond facility has received a number of accolades, including Food Engineering Magazine’s title of the 2014 Plant of the Year, as well as being named to Boston Consulting Group’s list of the fastest-growing midsize companies in the nation.

The company is no stranger to building facilities quickly — Blue Diamond was able to move from groundbreaking to startup for the original plant in just 13 months. At the expansion’s groundbreaking ceremony in January 2019, Blue Diamond President and CEO Mark Jansen said they hoped to get the additional space built quickly due to the company’s rapid growth. Just over a year later, that goal was accomplished.

The new facility will be used specifically to create an integrated almond beverage base line, where, for the first time, everything needed for the product will be manufactured in the same facility. The base for Blue Diamond’s beverage line, Almond Breeze, will be created at the Turlock expansion through a process of blanching, splitting, roasting and grinding the almonds into a buttery paste, which will then be shipped all over the world to be mixed with water and sold as almond milk.

Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze production has experienced double digit growth over the last 20 years. In 2018, the brand grew by 14 percent. The original Turlock Blue Diamond facility is already processing about 25 percent more almonds than the company originally thought possible for the plant’s capacity after the company recently added an almond flour line to the mix.

The expansion comes as phase two in a three-phase, 15-year project that began when Blue Diamond purchased 88 acres at the intersection of North Washington and Fulkerth roads in late 2011. Since then, companies like Hilmar Cheese and Valley Milk have made their way into the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, while already-established facilities like United States Cold Storage and Sunnyside Farms are also currently in expansion mode.

The second expansion in Salida is the new Bulk 8 Warehouse at the Salida facility that originally opened as an almond receiving station in 1969. It increases Blue Diamond’s receiving capacity by 25 percent and adds 20 percent more bulk storage of almonds that come from over 3,000 growers in California. According to a 2015 report from the Almond Board of California, that’s nearly half of all the almond farms in the state.

“The cool thing about this warehouse is, once again, we’ve replicated the unique design that allows us to take our most premium, finest almonds and store them and process them in the most gentle way possible, and that allows us to have the best quality almonds in the world,” Jansen said at the project’s groundbreaking last year.

Photo contributed
The Turlock Blue Diamond facility has been recognized in the past as the top Food Plant of the Year by Food Engineering Magazine.

Today the 675,000 square foot facility sits on 44 acres and includes a retail nut and gift shop. The new 58,000 square foot bulk storage facility will provide an additional 50 million pounds of in-house bulk almond storage capacity in time to receive the 2020 almond harvest. The 65-foot-tall building includes advanced design with an automated gravity fed spiral conveyance system that improves grower delivery efficiency and reduces damage to the almonds.

“It is particularly meaningful for Blue Diamond to be able to commemorate our Founders Day today by not only recognizing our humble beginnings 110 years ago, but also celebrating two key growth milestones that help secure our future,” Jansen said. “I couldn’t be more proud that, despite the unprecedented challenges businesses around the world have faced over the past two months, our incredible team has been able to sustain operations as an essential food supplier, while completing these critical expansion projects ahead of schedule to meet customer needs.”

To celebrate the expansions and give back during the coronavirus pandemic, Blue Diamond, along with partners Union Pacific and Sun-Maid Growers of California, committed to a donation match of $50,000 to help support three food banks in northern and central California that are struggling to meet significant demand from local families in need.

Blue Diamond Growers was founded by a handful of California almond growers on May 6, 1910. Originally known as the California Almond Growers Exchange, the grower-owned cooperative quickly grew into the world leader in growing, processing and marketing almonds and almond ingredients. In 1914, the Exchange opened a new receiving and packaging plant in Sacramento, California, that eventually became the largest almond processing plant in the world. Today, the Sacramento plant sits on 90 acres, covering 33 city blocks and serves at the cooperative’s headquarters. In 1915, the co-op adopted the symbol of a blue diamond – the finest grade of diamond in the world – to signify its commitment to quality and in 1980, the cooperative’s name was officially changed to Blue Diamond Growers.

California produces 80 percent of the world’s almond supply and almonds are the state’s largest food export item. Blue Diamond Growers’ 3,000 members account for roughly half of the state’s almond producers.