“We are seeing the food industry respond to consumer demands for healthy and nutritious food that is environmentally friendly. And more often than not, the food industry is turning to pulses to satisfy this demand. It’s not surprising, therefore, that we are seeing pulse production on the rise. According to the UN FAO, between 1998 and 2018, world pulse production grew by 36 million metric tons, a 63% increase. People everywhere, whether consumers, food manufacturers or farmers, are coming to the realization that, in this era of climate change and exponential population growth, pulses are the key to the sustainable food systems of the future. Which is why pulses are the future of food.”
Global Pulse Confederation
This past February 10th was a very special day for the global pulse industry. It marked the second time that people from around the world reserved the date to come together and celebrate pulses. In Turkey, social media influencers shared pulse-inspired recipes and touted the health benefits of these superfoods. Halfway around the world, more than 300 artists participated in a bean-inspired art contest held by the U.S. Dry Bean Council. There were celebrations in Japan, Myanmar, Singapore, Spain, Ukraine, Nepal, Madagascar and Argentina, to name just a few. And I had the pleasure of personally participating in events highlighting pulses that were organized by the government of India in New Delhi and the UN FAO in Rome.
What was the occasion, you may ask? Since 2019, February 10th has been
officially recognized as World Pulses Day. The UN FAO proclaimed it so in recognition of the nutritional, health and environmental benefits of pulses and the important role they can play in achieving several Sustainable Development Goals.
Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. They grow in pods and encompass a diverse group of food crops that includes peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans. Because pulses are nutrient dense and a high-quality source of protein, they can help address the problems of hunger, malnutrition and obesity. And because pulse crops use fewer chemical fertilizers and water than most competing crops, they are vital to the sustainable food systems we need to feed a global population projected to hit 9.8 billion by 2050. Equally important, pulse production provides a livelihood to millions of smallholder farmers, most of them women, in much of the developing world, and can therefore play a key role in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of no poverty and zero hunger.
And this brings me to a lesson I learned as a child. I was born into a family of farmers and, growing up on the family farm in Menomonie, Wisconsin, one of the things my father imparted to me was that farmers cannot be removed from consumer demand, and consumers need to have a connection back to the land.
Now, as the president of both Chippewa Valley Bean, my family’s agricultural business, and the Global Pulse Confederation, the peak body of the global pulse industry, it is inspiring to see that connection between farmers and consumers taking shape. It is manifested in the explosion of plant-based food products we saw in 2019. According to the Good Food Institute, in the U.S. alone, retail sales of these products surged 11% to $4.5 billion last year, and, according to BIS Research, the global plant-based market is projected to expand by a CAGR of 13.82% and hit $480 billion by 2024. These numbers have caught the attention of major meat companies like Tyson Foods and leading restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC.
So, what is happening here? In effect, we are seeing the food industry respond to consumer demands for healthy and nutritious food that is environmentally friendly. And more often than not, the food industry is turning to pulses to satisfy this demand. Pea protein, in particular, is having its moment in the spotlight, but major players in the pulse fractioning sector are also innovating with faba beans, lentils and other pulses as well.
This is because pulses check off all the boxes. In terms of nutrition, they are low in fat and are an affordable source of high-quality protein. They are also high in fiber and contain essential vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium. In fact, throughout the world, most national dietary guidelines recommend pulses as part of a healthy diet.
And because they are nutritional powerhouses, they are a vital to good health. Their high protein and fiber content leaves one feeling satiated, which helps with weight management and therefore helps combat both malnutrition and obesity. And because they contain complex carbohydrates that take longer to breakdown, pulses provide us with sustained energy, in sharp contrast with a sugar rush. These carbohydrates also contain oligosaccharides and resistant starch, which improve overall gut health. Further, research has shown that, possibly due to the antioxidant vitamins present in pulses, as well as their high fiber and low-fat content, a diet rich in pulses can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and even certain cancers.
Last but not least, there are the environmental considerations that tie consumer demand back to the land. Farmers like planting pulses because they draw nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and enriching the soil for the next crop in the rotation. They also require less water to produce than most other protein sources, plant or animal. Consequently, they appeal to environmentally conscious consumers who are opting for food options with low carbon footprints.
Source: SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet (proprietary), SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI), 104 weeks ending April 21, 2019, as reported by the Good Food Institute.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that we are seeing pulse production on the rise. According to the UN FAO, between 1998 and 2018, world pulse production grew by 36 million metric tons, a 63% increase. There is still much to do, of course. For instance, research is needed to boost yields and more must be done to improve the livelihood of pulse growers in the developing world.
But people everywhere, whether consumers, food manufacturers or farmers, are coming to the realization that, in this era of climate change and exponential population growth, pulses are the key to the sustainable food systems of the future. Which is why pulses are the future of food.