While few positives have accompanied the COVID-19 public health crisis and the economic chaos wrought by measures designed to curb the disease’s spread, the renewed focus on consumers by U.S. agriculture as a result of the crisis is certainly a bright spot.
For the first time in decades, Americans have felt the pressure of food shortages. While these shortages are merely a function of supply chain bottlenecks, they’re unsettling nonetheless. As a result, U.S. farmers have taken the opportunity to show support to the consumers who support them, and social media has been filled with reassuring messages by farmers readying to plant what could be one of the largest crops in history.
Given the last couple months’ focus on public health and the food supply, I thought now would be a great time to talk about the fastest-growing domestic market for sorghum: food. Often overlooked because of their size relative to the ethanol, export and livestock markets, food markets have quietly grown to represent 5% to 10% of all demand for sorghum — and for good reason. These markets typically pay $1.75 to $2 per bushel more for sorghum than traditional markets.
It’s no wonder sorghum farmers across the country have stepped up their consumer outreach efforts.
Human consumption of sorghum is not new. The crop has been an important foodstuff for thousands of years and remains a staple for many millions of people in developing countries.
In the developed world, interest in sorghum as a food has been growing for several decades. In fact, the August 1972 edition of National Sorghum Producers’ Grain Sorghum News included a short piece on the growing interest in sorghum as a food and the milling quality research being conducted to facilitate greater consumption. We’ve been at this a while, and our efforts are really beginning to pay off!
Over the last few years, the pace of startups, product launches and public relations wins have been dizzying. Several new launches have occurred this year alone, and sorghum-based Ka-Pop! ancient grain snacks were featured on ABC’s Shark Tank in January. Writers at marthastewart.com even mused sorghum could be the next “it” grain.”
Such headlines are almost commonplace now, and foodies have been speculating for some time that sorghum may be on the verge of a breakout.
So, does sorghum taste good? In my opinion, absolutely! I start each day with a bowl of Grain Berry breakfast cereal made with Onyx sorghum. I also love grains cooked whole, so I frequently use recipes from simplysorghum.com to prepare grain bowls and other lunch and dinner dishes from whole sorghum provided by Nu Life Market. And although I don’t drink whiskey often, I occasionally enjoy an evening glass of James F.C. Hyde Sorgho Whiskey. It’s a whiskey like no other!
Do others agree? Again, absolutely! In addition to strong sales by these companies, sorghum is featured prominently by a number of regional and national brands, including Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s, Velvet Taco, Bard’s Beer, Gerber and Kellogg’s, just to name a few. There’s also been an uptick in ancient grain offerings on college campuses recently, and we’re excited students at Kansas State University, the University of Connecticut and Yale University have access to nutrient-rich sorghum.
In theory, the sorghum food market could be massive. The U.S. consumes approximately 1.4 billion bushels of wheat and corn as cereal grain annually, so 10% market share would use almost 40% of the current U.S. sorghum crop.
Such a change would radically alter the sorghum industry, and we must begin to create this change by showing our own support and purchasing sorghum food products ourselves. Next, we must reach out to consumers. With the current focus on public health and the food supply, today is a great day to begin.