PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA

Opinion

No butts, just hummus

By From page A4 | May 13, 2013

In what might be the biggest proof the United States is more health conscious than ever, the Wall Street Journal reports that some tobacco farmers are shifting to producing chickpeas, “an improbable move that reflects booming demand for hummus.”

In a society that continuously raises the price and taxes on a pack or carton of cigarettes, but sees stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes continue to boom, another major shift is happening at a level that could help farmers survive in these tough times.

Growing demand for hummus has pushed up prices for chickpeas, spurring farmers to increase production. The average price that farmers received for chickpeas was 35 cents a pound last year, a 10-cent increase over the mid-2000s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

U.S. farmers will plant 214,300 acres of chickpeas this year, a number fivefold from a decade ago.

Farmers are changing with the times. They have to stay in business. That often means selling crops to the highest bidder, and the bids are pouring in for chickpeas.

But it goes even higher than that. The big boys are jumping on the bandwagon quickly. Where there’s a buck, there’s a way.

The Pacific Northwest is currently the hotbed of the country’s chickpea production. Sabra Dipping Co., a joint venture of PepsiCo. Inc, announced an $86 million expansion to its hummus plant in Virginia to keep up with the demand. “Virginia officials are eager to develop new crops in a state where tobacco farming has shrunk dramatically since the 1990s because of declining cigarette sales,” the WSJ article stated.

The popularity of hummus in the United States continues to grow. The chickpea dip is low in fat and high in protein. According to market-research firm Information Resources Inc., sales of “refrigerated flavored spreads” — a segment dominated by hummus — jumped 25 percent from 2010 at U.S. food retailers.

Chickpeas won’t be dominating the market by any means, and neither will hummus. Fast food will continue to be popular to American society, as are cigarettes, though less so in health conscious California. But the shift isn’t so subtle anymore. According to the USDA, last year’s U.S. chickpeas harvest totaled a record 332 million pounds, up 51 percent from the previous year, with the value of the chickpea crop also setting a record at $115.5 million.

The more who reach for a healthy snack with their wallets rather than a few smokes, the more hummus will hit shelves and the less butts will hit the ground. Quitting smoking suddenly sounds like it providing a healthier society in more ways than one.

Mountain Democrat

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