In January this year, salmonella was discovered in peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America. It soon emerged that those products had made their way into thousands of foods nationwide leading to a recall that involved hundreds of companies – but not in time to prevent more than 700 people from becoming ill and nine deaths across 46 states.
Although branded peanut butter sold in grocery stores was not affected by the contamination, sales of all peanut products plummeted across the country, as consumers became confused about which products were safe and which were not.
At the end of February, director of communications for the National Peanut Board Ryan Lepicier told this website that the peanut industry would likely only feel the full impact of reduced sales once the 2009 harvest began. This was because farmers had already sold the peanuts from last year’s harvest by the time the outbreak struck.
But yesterday Lepicier told FoodNavigator-USA.com that sales have rebounded, and that the bleak economic climate has been an unexpected boon for the industry.
“Peanut butter sales are up over the past year starting in March. It’s been encouraging,” he said. “…Peanut butter is a nutritious food that’s economical, especially in times of economic recession.”
Despite this, he said that about 30 percent fewer acres were planted this year, but he puts that down to overproduction in 2008, rather than a lasting impact from the salmonella scandal. Last year, farmers harvested the biggest crop of peanuts in US history.
As for the quality of this year’s harvest, he said that it is still too early to say – but he is sure that demand has returned, with double digit growth in peanut butter sales every month since March.
“The recession has been a big factor,” he said. “Peanut butter is a very popular food here in the United States. People know that it is very nutritious and contains a high level of protein per portion.”
According to National Peanut Board figures, Americans normally eat about 700 million pounds of peanut butter a year and about 600 million pounds of peanuts.