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January 09, 2004

By Tino Breuer
General Manager
Ontario Bean Producer Marketing Board

At a recent bean conference, U.S. domestic dry bean consumption was put under the microscope. The USA consumes over 75% of the dry edible beans it produces within its borders, but domestic disappearance now shows a flattening tendency. Leading into the 1980s, U.S. dry bean consumption, on an annual per capita base, was declining. Then in the 1990s there was an upswing and now in the early 2000s it has flattened and is drifting lower.

These macro trends can be explained, to a degree, by way of geo- and ethno- demographics. The U.S. south and west saw the greatest gains in bean consumption. This area also represents the influx and migration of peoples from Mexico. Hispanics, more than any other ethnic group, consume proportionately more dry edible beans. Since dry beans feature prominently in the diets of people of Hispanic decent, it may explain why Pinto and Black beans were the two classes that showed the best gains over the past 20 years. Foodservices for 'Fast Foods' - primarily refried beans - were the fastest growing segment of the market.

There are some interesting segmentations between age groups, gender and income distribution. While for the most part the statement "As disposable income rises, bean consumption declines" is true, there were some notable exceptions. Black and Garbanzo (Kabuli chickpea) bean use rose with income. The growing popularity of ethnic cuisines being featured in restaurants may be a factor at work here.

When it came to White Pea or Navy beans, the trend was a continuation of a previously established trend - lower. During the mid '90s, introduction of new (flavor) products infused some growth, however, the consumption of the white bean is driven by canned baked bean products and this segment seems to be static at best. A growth-limiting factor may be the bean's lack of penetration into the food service sector to access the 'growth' areas - fast food and food services (restaurants and institutions).

These are not new, or startling revelations. The market place has proven that it can adjust production much more quickly than consumption. We will continue to have the cyclical yin and yang of price and production swings. The search for alternative, value-added products must be intensified to help diversify utilization. And this too is nothing new. But perhaps today with the Canadian federal government's focus on "the bio-economy," bio-based products, with a lean to scientific innovation and technology, the search may be easier but not necessarily shorter.
Is there another life for the white bean outside the can? Let's say yes and go looking for its next incarnation!

- Source: Emerging Bean


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