At a time when the Inland Northwest dry pea and lentil industry is sitting on a record crop, a new survey finds that many of the nation’s supermarkets and food companies don’t have a clue about where the tiny legumes come from.
Worse yet, many of the retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers who annually snap up 25 percent of the U.S. crop said they don’t know the difference between peas and lentils grown in Canada and the Inland Northwest.
The findings, presented in a survey by Seattle-based Research Department Inc., point up a flaw in marketing peas and lentils produced by 6,000 Inland Northwest farmers along the Washington-Idaho border.
Unlike Idaho potatoes or Washington apples, the legumes have little identity to give them perceived value. That could become a problem, the Research Department said, because U.S. consumers can’t be expected to support domestic growers if they don’t know where their food came from.
“We’d like to be as well known as the potato chip,” said Tim McGreevy, executive director of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council in Moscow. “That’s what we aspire to.”
Nearly four out of 10 retail chains said they don’t know where peas and lentils are grown, the survey found. One out of three manufacturers, which include Campbell’s Soup and other food processors, also are clueless. Yet 40 percent said they are buying greater quantities because of consumer demand. The remainder were loyal buyers who cited superior quality and price of the U.S. crop.
U.S. farmers this year produced a record 359.1 million pounds of green peas and 18 million pounds of garbanzos. They also harvested 161.8 million pounds of lentils, about the same as last year. Most of the U.S. crop comes from the Palouse.
Jill Suess, who chairs the council’s domestic marketing campaign, said the council’s annual budget for U.S. marketing is only $100,000.
In the past, she said, the council relied on consumers to persuade grocers, restaurants and manufacturers to buy more peas and lentils.
But in the coming year, the council hopes to increase sales by targeting primarily manufacturers with sales calls, literature and trade show presentations.