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A chef demonstration and tasting event held at the elegant Astor Center in New York was an inadvertent venue for the image rehabilitation of the recently battered peanut industry, to judge from the comments of several attendees, including trade association executives, suppliers and peanut farmers.
Although the celebratory festivities, sponsored by the Atlanta-based National Peanut Board (NPD) and also featuring a two-day interactive exhibition at New York's iconic and well-traveled Grand Central Station, were in the works before the salmonella outbreak and subsequent massive product recall, they proved to be a perfect opportunity for the industry to get across its core messages of quality, safety and versatility.
Raffaela Marie Fenn, president and CEO of NPD, described the demonstration and tasting as an "up-close and personal opportunity" for people to experience exotic cuisines featuring peanuts, including dishes with roots in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fenn deplored the actions of PCA, which she said had cast "an incredible cloud" over the entire industry. Fortunately, the event enabled peanut growers and product suppliers to set the record straight by providing correct information to confused shoppers on the safety of peanuts, she said.
Bernard Brown of the PB&J Campaign, a Web-based initiative with the goal of urging consumers to eat more plant-based foods as a way to help the environment, noted that "it's hard to tell the impact" of this blitz of positive peanut news on wary consumers, but agreed that such high-profile gatherings can help remind the public that peanuts are safe and can be used in many "fun" ways.
Katalin Coburn, VP of Portales, N.M.-based Sunland, Inc., a vertically integrated company formed by Valencia peanut growers, declared herself "absolutely behind" such events, which bring "interesting, cool and new" products to the fore, since "most people don't go beyond peanut butter and jelly." At the present time, she noted, consumers need to be reassured that the peanut industry is responsible and accountable, since the screaming headlines on the outbreak and recall "freaked people out," and many didn't read beyond the initial reports. According to Coburn, Sunland was first inundated with consumer requests for answers in the wake of the PCA disaster, and then, once it was ascertained that Sunland products were safe, a rising demand for peanuts, leading to "a very interesting time" for the company. Coburn will be holding a seminar on "The Valencia Peanut Difference" at the upcoming Expo West.
Peanut farmer Jimbo Grissom traveled to New York from the west Texas town of Seminole to attend the event, which he called a "very good way to publicize peanuts." Grissom pointed out that although PCA was responsible for just 2.5 percent of processed peanut products in the United States, growers like him, who are unconnected with the manufacturer, have suffered somewhat from its actions: Some peanut contracts from shellers "aren't happening," he noted, and peanut product was sitting in warehouses because of lower demand.
Still, events that educate the public and open up a whole new world of eating possibilities can only have a positive effect on the industry, observed Grissom, noting that the tasting offered "a place for everybody to come and find something they like."
In other news, in the aftermath of the events relating to PCA, Barbara C. Robinson, acting director of the National Organic Program (NOP) of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, has issued a directive to certifiers that certifying agents are required to report violations of health or safety to the appropriate local, state or federal officials, with a copy to the NOP. The directive additionally noted that organic certification "shall not be granted or continued when current health or safety inspections have not been granted or renewed for the facility."
California State Senate majority leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has introduced legislation to prevent recalled items from getting past checkout. Senate Bill 550 would require grocery stores that use programmable checkout scanners to program them to notify the employee and customer when a recalled product is scanned.
Recently recalled products include Fresh & Easy Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters, Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, and Nature's Path EnviroKidz Organic Crispy Rice Peanut Choco Drizzle Bar, Nature's Path Organic Granola Bar Peanut Butter Chunky, Nature's Path Organic Granola Bars Peanut Choco Chocolate Drizzle Bar and Nature's Path Organic Peanut Butter Granola Cereal.