In an article for Social Science & Medicine, Princeton postdoctoral researcher Miranda Waggoner discussed a “big societal problem that is based on what is a small problem in terms of the population affected.”
“One physician has written that the same number of people die each year from peanut allergies as from lightning strikes, yet the perception of peanut allergy risk has invaded the common social spaces we all inhabit - airlines, day cares and schools.”
Members of the peanut industry do not question the seriousness of the risk peanuts do pose to that small minority.
“I think whenever you speak about a potentially life threatening condition, especially amongst children, there is a greater sensitivity and rightfully so,” said Patrick Archer, President of the American Peanut Council.
As a result the industry has poured a tremendous amount into allergy research.
“Our industry, in particular our peanut growers, have spent about $9m on peanut allergy research and education efforts. I do not know of any other industry group outside the peanut industry that compares to our efforts,” Archer told BakeryandSnacks.com.
Despite a heightened social sensitivity, Archer claims that the industry has not suffered financially.
“Peanut product sales have not declined as the rate of those allergic has increased. In fact, sales of peanut butter, in particular, have shown excellent growth over the past decade.”
According to Euromonitor figures, overall nut consumption dipped from 373.4 thousand tons in 2007 to 361.1 thousand tons in 2008, recovering and exhibiting growth again after this point.
Peanut consumption did not experience the same drop. Instead levels have shown steady growth each year since 2007, rising from 133.0 thousand tons in 2007 to 139.4 thousand tons by 2012.
Strength in peanut sales has not just been limited to the US, earlier this year it was reported that the UK has seen a surge of 20% in peanut butter sales over the last two years, rising from £47m ($71m) to £56m ($85m) in 2012.
Health benefits prop up the industry
Archer speculated that health benefits are the reason for this success in the face of growing social anxiety.
“Peanuts are heart healthy, have almost no carbs, are great for weight management by being a food that satisfies hunger, and is an excellent food for diabetics,” Archer said.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about food allergy or peanut allergy in particular which need to be dispelled. Education is key. On the issue of labeling, our industry thinks allergen labeling is important and we support clear labeling of all major allergens,” he said.