By Kristen Wohlers Canby-Molalla Herald-Pioneer
An Aurora/Donald business may soon see its products on Walmart or Sam’s Club shelves.
Wilco Hazelnut LLC, Hazelnut Growers of Oregon, a farmer-owned cooperative located on Butteville Road in Donald, was one of 800 small businesses invited to participate in an open call with Walmart and was selected as one of 175 small businesses to move on to the next round.
“We are excited and certainly flattered and honored that we’ve been selected to present our items. … It was very positive feedback,” said Matthew Gillespie, marketing and innovation manager for Hazelnut Growers of Oregon. “We actually presented to the buyers for Walmart, but also Sam’s Club.”
Walmart held the first-ever virtual open call event as part of its push that began in 2013 to buy an additional $250 billion in products supporting American jobs by 2023.
“It’s truly inspiring to see the strong entrepreneurial spirit of this year’s participants,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart senior vice president for global sourcing and U.S. manufacturing. “Despite the challenges small businesses have faced this year, they’ve brought incredible energy, innovation and ingenuity to their product pitch meetings, and we are excited about what this means for our customers, our communities and our commitment to source an additional $250 billion in U.S. manufactured products that support American jobs.”
The Donald business opted into the contest as a potential way to bring national recognition to its retail brand, Oregon Orchard, but also to the hazelnut industry as a whole.
Aside from being featured in Nutella and coffee creamer, Gillespie said hazelnuts otherwise have had a small stage.
“This brand is an opportunity to introduce hazelnuts to the consumer, the American consumer, that up till now has had relatively limited exposure to hazelnuts,” Gillespie said.
The American nut grows only in certain areas of Oregon, Gillespie said, which makes it quite special — a note the business’s presenters were sure to bring up in their pitch to Walmart.
“We talked about that kind of premium cachet that hazelnuts have,” Gillespie said.
Otherwise, when it came to the pitch, Hazelnut Growers of Oregon took a straight-forward approach, showing Walmart the full product line, which includes natural hazelnuts primarily for baking, seasoned hazelnuts for snacking and cooking, and candied hazelnuts.
Those premium candied hazelnuts are all chocolate dipped and come in four flavors: dark chocolate, marionberry chocolate, milk chocolate and skinny milk chocolate.
Gillespie said the marionberry paired with the hazelnut makes for the perfect Pacific Northwest treat, and he said the skinny milk chocolate, with 20% less milk chocolate, helps bring the hazelnut flavor forward.
To view all the products, visit oregonorchard.com.
Now, the Donald business waits for a call-back.
“Fingers are crossed. We are anxious in a good way,” Gillespie said. “There are so many opportunities that will come out of this should we get a ‘yes’ from here. We’re pretty excited for either opportunity, whether it’s in the club channel with the Sam’s Club or we get in line with Walmart.”
Two other Oregon companies moved on to the same stage as Hazelnut Growers of Oregon. Those are Underwater Audio, based in Corvallis, and Our Life Foods, based in Damascus.