BILLINGS — As other sectors of American agriculture feel the pressure of the coronavirus, pulse crop supplier, processor, and distributor Columbia Grain International has seen bean demand soar for shelf-stable foods, especially beans and lentils grown by farmers in Montana.
Jeff VanPevenage is the president and CEO of Columbia Grain International and expects this demand to continue.
“People will like them because, one, they're storable” said VanPevenage. “We look at what's going on in the meat industry and the shortages that you have there. These are items that you can pick up and store at home for three to six months and know that you're going to have them available to you when you're ready to cook. On top of that, you will find that people's desire for more healthy foods is becoming a big trend all over the world. And these fit into the category that people are looking for.”
He says Columbia Grain has experienced a 40% increase in demand for the shelf-stable protein, and its plants are working around the clock to fulfill increasing orders.
“What we really work at doing is fulfilling how to get these products from the farm to a market,” said VanPevenage. “We look at ourselves as market makers, and we're out all over the world talking to buyers and solidifying supply chains so that we can move this product in a timely fashion from producers to the consumers.”
Columbia Grain's investment into new processing plants like the one in Plentywood have been beneficial to both farmers and consumers.
“We've seen change,” said VanPevenage. “I got involved in this in 2005 and at that point in time, a lot of the product was just going to India uncleaned and the world has increased its sensitivity towards quality on these crops. So, Columbia Grain has been investing into high-quality manufacturing processing facilities that will enable us to clean, bag and provide products that the majority of the world want. We're also moving into small packaging so that we can start putting products into grocery stores with a Colombia Grain brand that'll be a Montana, North Dakota, Washington and Idaho product.”
Two months ago, Columbia Grain International thought it would see reduced pulse crop acreage to in the U.S., but now farmers are forecasted to increase what’s being planted on increased demand.
Columbia Grain expects pulse orders to continue to rise well into the future, as cooking at home increases and fewer Americans eat out due to coronavirus related fears which will continue to fuel the demand for plant-based proteins.