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Food banks and protein appeal boost peanut sales

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 04-Dec-2009

Peanut sales have soared in the US, up 18.6 percent in August over the same period last year, due to the weakened economy, increased food bank use, a marketing push, and peanut butter’s all-American appeal.

The improved sales volumes come nearly a year on from the massive nationwide recall of peanut products linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak in January. Peanut sales plummeted directly following the outbreak – including a 19.4 percent drop for peanut butter, which was not implicated in the recall. However, sales have picked up every month since.

The National Peanut Board (NPB) claims that the recovery has been largely down to the efforts of its peanut farmers and marketing team, but the economic downturn has also helped.

Feeding America cheap protein

It has been suggested that many Americans are turning to peanuts as a wholesome, cheaper alternative to more expensive forms of protein, especially meat, as part of wider cutbacks.

Spokesman for the National Peanut Board Ryan Lepicier told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Certainly peanuts are one of the great sources of protein.” He added that because of this, peanut butter is also one of the most commonly requested products for food bank donations.

The number of people relying on federal food programs has rocketed over the past year. According to USDA figures for August, people were joining the Food Stamp program – now officially known as the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – at a rate of 20,000 per day.

Lepicier said that the increased sales volumes were “most likely a combination of our increased marketing efforts and the economy working in unison.”

The NPB instigated an intensive marketing drive in the months following the peanut product recall, involving public relations, advertising and special events in which farmers were able to speak directly to consumers about their fears.

Roger Neitsch, a Texas peanut farmer and Chairman of the NPB said: “We were brokenhearted to see a crop we raised and relied upon for our family's success involved in such a large food recall due to negligence of one food manufacturer. Although we weren't responsible for the manufacturing problem, we knew we had to do something."

Wider food safety worries

Lepicier said that although the salmonella in January was difficult for peanut producers, it was part of a systemic problem with food safety in the United States.

“We had pistachios after peanuts and problems with produce and with beef. There’s a general problem that transcends any particular product,” he said.

Approximately 52 percent of the US peanut crop is used for peanut butter, with the remaining 48 percent being used in food manufacturing, according to NPB figures.

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