US volumes of pulses surge 8% in 2015, outpacing overall fresh food growth of 1%

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

 Picture: Some products using pulses at Expo West in 2015
Picture: Some products using pulses at Expo West in 2015

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Volumes of pulses (defined as leguminous crops - beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils - harvested for dry grains) surged 8% in the US in 2015, while overall volumes of fresh food (retail, foodservice, institutional channels combined) grew by a more modest 1%, according to Euromonitor International.

Head of fresh food Anastasia Alieva told FoodNavigator-USA: “Pulses recorded by far the highest growth with an 8% total volume sales rise due to proactive efforts from retailers and producers.

There is a growing number of health conscious consumers reducing intakes of meat in general and red meat in particular and adopting flexitarian diets. Pulses are a good source of plant protein for those, who alternate meat with vegetarian food options."

Non-GMO, gluten-free, high in protein, fiber and micronutrients…

She added: “Within pulses, the ‘other pulses’ category was the best performer in 2015 with a sales rise of 17% in volume terms. This category includes chickpeas, lentils, and smaller groups of pulses such as cow peas. Lentils, despite their strong association with Indian cuisine, are increasingly used by American cooks because of their similarity to split peas in terms of cooking preparation. Chickpeas are also growing in popularity with the increasing normalisation of hummus in the American diet.”

So how else are Americans using pulses?

Pulses are used for homemade stews, tagines, soups, salads, dips and other dishes and are popular due to their versatility,” ​said Alieva.

And while they might once have had a reputation of being the ‘poor man’s protein’, they are now gaining traction in fine dining, she added.

“A cultivar of lentil known as “Beluga lentils” has been introduced into the fine dining scene in recent years, benefiting from its physical resemblance to caviar and firm, pleasing, texture. The lentil has been celebrated in vegan and meat restaurants alike, sometimes being served as an explicit substitute for black caviar. An establishment called Los Angeles Eats Itself opened in 2015, serving what it calls Parrot Caviar, a dish made of beluga lentils, fois mousseline, quail egg and fennel that comes served in a tin.”

Bang on trend?

Overall, she said, pulses will continue to gain ground as they tick so many boxes (sustainable protein source, non-GMO, gluten-free, high in protein, fiber and micronutrients, and low in fat).

“Pulses will be a popular food in the coming years for a variety of reasons. They are resilient in times of erratic weather, and thus have reliable and sustainable yields. They also are filling and nutritious, and much cheaper than meat.”

Nut volumes were up 2%, while meat volumes were up 3.3%.

Total volume sales of eggs declined by 1% in 2015

Eggs, fruits and vegetables, however, showed declines due to a combination of factors including avian flu and the drought in California, she said.

Total volume sales of eggs declined by 1% in 2015 due to the outbreak of avian flu and an egg shortage in the US market. Retail volume sales of eggs declined by nearly 2%, retail value sales declined by 0.1%

“In terms of distribution, share of egg sales through retail contracted by 1% in 2015 while sales to foodservice increased by 5% in 2015 due in large part to McDonald’s expanding its all-day breakfast.”

Total fruits volume sales fell by 2% in 2015

2015 was a particularly bad year for fruits, meanwhile, said Alieva: “California, the largest fruit-producing state in the US, accounting for over 50% of total fruit acreage according to the USDA, was faced with a heavy bout of drought that started in early 2013 and continued into late 2015. This led to a sharp decline in domestic fruit production, which drove up prices and caused consumption to fall.

“Total fruits volume sales fell by 2% in 2015. The decrease was caused by declines in several key fruits categories; apples, grapefruit/pomelo, and oranges, tangerines and mandarins. Retail volume sales contracted by 1.3%, while retail value sales grew by 1.4% boosted by rising prices.​”

Fresh food, or minimally processed?

While Americans claim to be eschewing heavily processed foods and center of store categories for ‘perimeter’ items, however, they are not necessarily making meals from scratch, she said.

“Although these trends seem like they would be an incredible boon to the fresh food market, what has resulted instead is high growth in minimally, but still processed food rather than in fresh food. For example, in 2015 Americans flocked towards frozen fruit for their smoothies. What fresh food lacks is the element of convenience – nor does it have an adequate shelf life for many consumers.

“Americans are convinced of the health benefits of a whole food diet, but are unwilling to commit the time and effort to a diet comprised primarily of fresh rather than processed food.

Fresh food sales by channel

As for sales channels, 2015 “saw a slight shift in fresh food volume sales in foodservice and institutional channels, in favor of retail channels​” said Alieva.

“Retail channels have changed the way that fresh food is sold, and there is an increasing prevalence of packaged fresh food sold via retail. For example, grocers have encouraged volume sales of fruits and vegetables by cutting and packaging the items in-store. Such practices increase retail profits, as these minimally processed products are sold at much higher margins.

“Retail is also benefiting from the popularity of internet retailers, which are increasingly successful at fast delivery in order to maintain product freshness.”

So what does Euromonitor predict for the next five years?

According to Alieva: “Fresh food is expected to achieve a 1% total volume CAGR ​[compound annual growth rate] for the forecast period (2015-2020), with pulses again growing at the fastest rate.”

Global fresh food trends

 Some highlights from Euromonitor’s global research into fresh food include:

  • China was the world’s largest fresh food market by volume accounting for 42% of global consumption in 2015
    • Nuts and fish/seafood have the highest growth potential in the next five years
    • Fresh meat makes 41% of fresh food retail value sales in the US
    • Per capita consumption of fish/seafood in Asia Pacific is 275%  higher than in North America
    • Americans consumed approximately 5kg of fresh fish and seafood per person in 2015, which is 74% less than the global average of 8.7kg
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Where next for beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils?

Register for our FREE, online 60-minute Pulse Innovation Forum​ ​on November 2, featuring Brami (lupini beans), Beanitos (bean snacks), Eat Well Embrace Life ('other bean hummus'), Pulse Canada, and Banza (chickpea pasta).

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