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Peanut industry goes after millennials, rallies behind its sustainability

smart phone peanut harvest

A major part of this year’s Southern Peanut Growers Conference was to champion the industry’s unified voice and plan to take its message of sustainability straight to consumers, particularly the digitally-tuned ears of the millennial generation.

U.S. peanut industry has new information to offer the sustainably sensitive and conscientious consumer.

For example, an ounce of protein-packed peanuts can be made with 2.7 gallons of water. It takes about 80 gallons to produce an ounce of almonds; and takes about 74 gallons to make an ounce of walnuts, according to data presented by Marshall Lamb, who talked about peanut’s water efficiency and sustainability during the Farm Press Peanut Efficiency Award Program at the conference July 23. Lamb heads up the USDA Peanut Lab in Dawson, Ga.

Adding to peanut’s environmental profile, the legume’s nitrogen-fixing power, pulling nitrogen into the soil from the air, is a message which should fall easy on environmentally sensitive ears. And due to improved varieties, more peanuts can be grown per acre today with less than ever before; again, socially aware gastronomes should like that message.

Ringing the “sustainable ag” bell is nothing new, but who rings it and how it resonates today is different. Lamb referenced times past when the “Alternative Agriculture,” “Sustainability,” and “Organic” initiatives of the 1970s, '80s and '90s by USDA, land grants and nongovernment organizations attempted to improve the economic and environmental impact of agriculture. The problem with that approach was it was too heavily top-down from the organizations, and the message fell on unenthusiastic ears.

The ‘sustainability’ movement today, he said, is a grassroots effort fostered by consumers and industry and one that can strongly influence consumers who want to know more about how their food is produced and are very opinionated about it. This recognition is changing purchasing patterns and market direction, and directly affecting the economic and environmental impact of agriculture now and in the future.

During the opening session of the conference, Ryan Lepicier with the National Peanut Board and Leslie Wagner with the Southern Peanut Growers spoke about the peanut industry’s unified message and voice in promoting peanut’s message to the millennials, a generation whish has a combined buying power and economic influence of more than $1 trillion annually.

The peanut, through its pure convenience, taste and nutrition, is one the iconic staples of the American diet. It should be. But peanut’s marketing power is relatively small. The peanut industry is able to spend less than $5 million on marketing. Compare that to what have become mega-money marketing campaigns spent by other snack nuts: California Almonds spends $15 million on marketing, the Wonderful Pistachio campaign spends $35.2 million; and Nutella spends $20 million, according to Wagner.

The peanut can hold its own against other nutty competitors but for how long? The millennials will be the barometer. They hold the power to influence market shifts or gains for the next few decades. They outnumber Baby Boomers as the largest single generation in U.S. history.

If millennials are not the most informed generation in American history, they are the most informed about what they want to be informed about. Catching their eyes, ears and buying power is the challenge now for the peanut industry; a challenge the industry is shifting its flanks to meet.

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