Peanut industry cooperation in providing dollars — and political clout — to support research and promotion has paid dividends from farm gate to retail shelves, says John Powell.
“Sixteen years ago, peanut consumption was at an all-time low, with double-digit declines every year,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association. “There was widespread misunderstanding by consumers of the federal government’s mandate on food labeling laws — the message they got centered on fat grams, and that fat’s bad for you.”
Powell, who is president of The Peanut Institute and executive director American Peanut Shellers Association, says, “We as an industry had one heckuva challenge on how to address these misconceptions and turn consumption around. We met with grower and manufacturer organizations, and other industry groups to try and figure what to do.
“A team was formed, and the National Peanut Board, representing growers, was an outgrowth of that.” But, he says, “manufacturers didn’t have a lot of interest in putting money into the effort — their attitude was, we can use something besides peanuts for our products.”
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The American Peanut Shellers Association, with many millions of dollars invested in facilities around the country, “stepped up to the plate and contributed millions of dollars for research into the nutritional value of peanuts and to support educational programs.
“These studies are extremely expensive, and the money the shellers invested, along with some federal support for research, made a huge difference in changing the public’s perception of peanuts,” Powell says. “This has been an awesome effort, and today consumption peanuts and peanut products is at an all-time high.”
The shellers organization has provided “tremendous assistance in going to Capitol Hill and getting money to support peanut research. One study, which cost $3.5 million over seven years, produced some great science regarding the obesity epidemic among young people. We now have data showing they can eat peanut butter and peanuts and won’t gain weight — in fact, may even lose weight. This has been featured in a lot of journals, and some 25 scientific papers came out of the study.”
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The Southwestern Peanut Shellers and Virginia-Carolina Peanut Shellers have also contributed funding for studies, Powell says, and The Peanut Institute has established its own foundation to serve as a conduit for attracting money from other foundations.
“We’re also fortunate to have been able to attract Patricia Kearney, former chief of staff for Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter and director of private sector communications for the Reagan administration, to be our program director. Pat is an expert in nutrition policy, food, and health, and understands the technical aspects of nutrition. She has been invaluable in putting the results of these technical studies into language that consumers can understand and use to make informed nutrition choices.”