Unicoque’s core business is hazelnuts, with a sales volume of about 10,000 t per annum, while walnuts only make up about 1,000 t per year. “Walnut production is only a small activity, but we cover a very specific market segment as our nuts are large and have a distinct taste,” says Maud Thomas, Director of Quality and R&D at Unicoque. “We cover two varieties with very different flavours: the Franquette, a walnut with a very intense flavour, and the Lara, which has a rather sweet taste to it.”
But there is more to Unicoque’s nuts than just their excellent taste; the cooperative’s fully integrated chain is also of great importance. “Basically, we cover everything from the tree growing area to the finished product,” says Ms. Thomas.
The cooperative supports its members with important information concerning plant protectants and also does research in this field. All aspects, from research and advice to production and distribution, are fully integrated into the structure.
“We cater to two market segments: nuts with shells and nuts where the shells have already been removed,” the Director of Quality and R&D describes the cooperative’s portfolio. “The market for nuts with shells is an international one with us exporting directly, mostly to Europe but also to Asia. The main season for this market segment is September to December, so rather dependent on the season.”
In contrast, the market for shelled nuts is not so much limited to a specific season, and these nuts are sold predominantly on a national level to French manufacturers of, for example, chocolate, oils and other food products.
Our fully integrated chain covers everything from the tree growing area to the finished product. Maud ThomasDirector of Quality and R&D
“Our products are in such high demand that our current capacity is almost completely spoken for and only very little for this market segment goes into export,” explains Ms. Thomas. “However, with the planned increase in production to 20,000 t by 2020 and 30,000 t by 2030, we also expect an increase in export activities in this area.”
To be able to store and treat the increasing amount of produce, Unicoque regularly invests extensive funds into new buildings. Treatment facilities especially are an important investment as the cooperative plans to diversify its portfolio further:
“We intend to add processed products such as roasted or grilled nuts as well as ground or chopped hazelnuts to our product palette,” Ms. Thomas explains. “With this move, we take on board the requests from our customers to whom we want to cater to the best of our ability.”
To increase efficiency, digitalization is not just a hollow word at Unicoque. Many of its processes are highly industrialized using sorting, calibrating, or laser and infrared machinery. “We have just returned from a study trip to the US where exactly the same machinery is used, which shows us that we are absolutely up to date on technology,” says Ms. Thomas.
From its headquarters in Cancon, Unicoque sends its message of top-quality nuts – the cooperative guarantees edibility of 98% of its products – out into the world using various channels such as its blog and its website. The cooperative also presents itself at trade shows such as the Fruit Logistica in Berlin, the Fruit Attraction in Madrid and, for the first time this year, the Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris.
“These events usually address a specialized audience, but the Paris show reaches a wide public, which is interesting for us, especially in respect of our plans for a diversified product portfolio,” states Ms. Thomas. “Here, we have been able to get initial feedback from the actual end consumers.”
What distinguishes Unicoque, who leads the market in hazelnuts in Europe, from its competitors is not only the exceedingly high level of quality of the products it provides. The cooperative idea, full traceability throughout production and social responsibility, as well as its excellent service and high reactivity to customers’ needs and requirements are the aspects that have made Unicoque a success and will continue to win over customers across Europe in the years to come.