Food & Drink

California almond processor takes flavors to new places

Stewart & Jasper Orchards employees, from left, Maria Madrigal, Isabel Fernandez and Maribel Plascencia sort some of the 2015 almond crop in Newman on March 1.
Stewart & Jasper Orchards employees, from left, Maria Madrigal, Isabel Fernandez and Maribel Plascencia sort some of the 2015 almond crop in Newman on March 1. jholland@modbee.com

Stewart & Jasper Orchards, a longtime almond processor in Stanislaus County, is following the lead of a 10-year-old member of the fourth generation.

Jake Jasper likes bold flavors, father Jason Jasper said, and that inspired the latest additions to line of snack nuts that already surpassed 50 types. One is a blend of blue cheese and cracked black pepper. Mesquite smoke flavor goes into another. And then there’s Bloody Mary almonds, dusted in powdered forms of tomato, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish and other ingredients (sorry, no powdered vodka).

“We’re trying to do some unique flavors,” Jason Jasper said on a recent morning at the plant, near Newman on the county’s West Side. “Our customers in the stores have been asking for something spicy.”

The snacks are a small part of Stewart & Jasper’s volume, which totals about 40 million pounds a year of nuts from company orchards and other growers under contract. It sells most of them in plain form for use as ingredients by food manufacturers around the world. California meets about 80 percent of the world’s almond demand, growing about 1.8 billion pounds last year.

The late Romain Stewart and Lee Jasper founded the company in 1948. It started hulling and shelling nuts for other growers in the 1970s and launched the snack lines in the 1990s. Today, it employs about 175 people, 100 of them year-round.

The latest line is under the new Jake’s Nut Roasters label. The Stewart & Jasper brand remains for the many other flavors, which range as wide as Asiago cheese, coconut, lime and root beer float. These are sold online at www.stewartandjasper.com, at three stores in Stanislaus County, and at Cannery Row in Monterey. The company also sells wines, preserves, sauces and other items from outside producers.

Almonds have become one of the state’s top-grossing farm products thanks in part to studies showing that they can help protect people from cancer, heart disease, obesity and other ills. But the industry has had to defend itself against claims that it has used too much water during the drought.

Jim Jasper, president of the company and grandfather of Jake, noted that many West Side growers got zero water from the federal Central Valley Project the past two years. He is a board member with the Del Puerto Water District, which is arranging to replace about a third of this supply with highly treated effluent from Modesto and Turlock sewage plants.

The industry also is dealing with wild swings in prices paid to growers. They got nearly $5 per pound last summer but closer to $3 as of January. Jim Jasper said he would like prices to remain between $2 and $3 so growers can cover their costs without driving away customers.

“They want stability,” he said. “They want to know that they can come every year and buy almonds.”

John Holland: 209-578-2385

Stewart & Jasper Orchards

What’s so special: Flavored almonds that suit the palates of people who like them spicy, savory or sweet.

The local connection: Four company stores carry the nuts: McHenry Village, 1700 McHenry Ave., Modesto; Del Lago Plaza, 2985 Renzo Lane, Patterson; next to the processing plant, 3500 Shiells Road, Newman; and Monterey Plaza Hotel, 400 Cannery Row, Monterey.

Expectations: The Modesto store is getting a makeover that will add a patio for wine tastings and other activities, and still more flavors are in the works at the plant.

Quote: “The stores consist primarily of products that we’ve created here ourselves in our own kitchen, made in very small batches ... Anything with almonds, you name it, we’ve got it here.”

Jason Jasper, vice president

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