The new packaging also highlights some of the nut’s applications, unique flavor and health benefits. “My great grandmother, so this is Ralph’s wife, Fae Hammons, she’s 103 years old, and we say it’s got to be because of all those black walnuts she’s been eating all these years,” Basecke says with a laugh.
The classic applications of black walnuts for baking, ice cream and, more recently, beer (most notably in Piney River Brewing Co.’s Black Walnut Wheat beer) have kept demand steady, but the increasing attention on organic and natural foods has opened up avenues for growth for the 72-year-old company. “We’re starting to see [that] the whole plant-based food trend has elevated some new markets for us, and our retail business has grown quite a bit,” Basecke says.
Because black walnuts have only a 10-percent yield of edible nut meat—low compared to the 50 to 60 percent yield you see with pecans and almonds—each harvest leaves a lot of leftover shells. Hammons Products Co. has found success in selling shells for industrial uses such as water filtration in the oil industry, sandblasting or soft-grit abrasive cleaning. Black walnut shells were even used to clean the Statue of Liberty, and nowadays, they’re replacing the crumb rubber in artificial turf fields.
A strategic eye on sustainable growth and exploration into new markets helped Basecke’s grandfather Dwain Hammons rapidly grow the business through the ’70s and ’80s, and under Brian Hammons leadership as current president, the company has continued to feed demand for Missouri’s black gold. Within the past year, Hammons Products Co. has expanded its retail package business with products reaching store shelves nationwide in Walmart, Kroger, Safeway and other major retailers, which Basecke says is a turning point for the company. Ultimately, he advises companies looking to grow to be true to their stories and to be passionate about how they tell that story. And sometimes it helps to really love your product, too. “Whenever we go to a restaurant, it seems like either Brian or Dwain will always have a bag of black walnuts inside their jacket, just in case,” Basecke says with a laugh. “The love of black walnuts certainly runs in our blood.”