Kira Nash spoke with Rebecca Bratter from the US Dry Bean Council about the Council’s recent challenges and triumphs and about the past, present, and future of the dry bean industry.
USDBC is the national trade association of the US Dry Bean industry. It brings together growers, dealers, exporters, processors, and corporates under one roof with the goal of increasing global consumption of US-grown dry beans. Rebecca Bratter is the Executive Director.
The USDBC is a strategic partner of Global Pulses Confederation and a key sponsorship partner for the upcoming Pulses 22 convention in Dubai on May 10-12. Haven’t registered yet? You can do so here.
What does the USDBC represent today?
We’re delighted to be continuing our mission to further the consumption of US-grown dry beans around the world and we’re more united than ever. Our program focuses on an approximately 80/20 split between global and domestic promotion; this is based on the way our budgets work and the fact that we receive a large grant from the USDA's foreign agricultural service for global export promotion and market development. Over the last few years, we have expanded globally both to new countries and new market segments and we’ve enhanced our domestic programs through a program focused on dry bean ingredients and innovation, which is global as well.
2021 was a difficult year for many people, but what are some of the Council’s positive highlights from last year?
It was definitely difficult for us as it was a full year of dealing not only with living through a pandemic but also with all of the ways it forced us to get creative, do more, deepen our research and still move ahead with a global promotion program. It’s not easy when your bread and butter is in-person trade visits, missions, and expos and all of that is canceled. So, we turned to our wish list of the things we would do if we had more time and available funding. The having-more-time thing didn't last long! We reprogrammed our global travel budget completely to undertake various research, positioning and value proposition studies. We also began our bean innovation program, and we kicked off some new activities — globally and in the US — to look at the best bean forms to market and their functionality.
We’re still working on that but have already begun to incorporate new promotional campaigns focused on bean flours. This is new for us, and we will continue to build on it worldwide. During last year, we were also able to get very good market research that helped us understand better our global value proposition and where we need to focus our strategies and budgets going forward. We initiated social media campaigns in most of our global programs and started working with influencers around the world.
We also created new committees, with one in particular focusing on an examination of how we communicate our messaging on sustainable practices. We kicked off a new project to address the need for global harmonization on chemical-residue limits, in areas such as pesticides, to prevent trade disruption. We conducted our inaugural global buyers event, BeanCon21, to bring US sellers and global buyers together to network and discuss the latest production data and innovation information. Due to the pandemic, BeanCon21 was conducted entirely in the virtual realm but we had over 400 participants and almost 300 virtual business meetings! BeanCon22 was hybrid and BeanCon23 will be in-person somewhere very exciting, so stay tuned.
And, on a very positive note, the demand for beans in 2021 was quite unprecedented and luckily we were coming off of a great harvest.
What is the USBDC looking forward to as we move further into 2022? Are there any exciting developments on the horizon?
I’m looking forward to everything bean-related in 2022: too much to print! Honestly though, we're off to a bit of a rough start numbers-wise. The world looks and feels different in 2022 and the exuberant bean markets are off to a slow start. It's not just one thing; we're facing a range of issues that we could not have anticipated coming into this year. These are the things that everyone is talking about: high prices, supply-chain disruptions, shipping issues, ongoing pandemic-related complications in some of our markets, challenges to our competitiveness, ongoing food insecurity in many parts of the world, inflation and high input costs, and now war. It's a tough time.
But in terms of beans, we continue our journey of moving into the spotlight and center of the plate. Although things are difficult, it's also a time of increased awareness of the importance of healthy eating to keep our immune systems strong and of vegan and plant-based eating. Consumers are searching for alternative protein sources, and people want foods that are sustainably produced. Beans check all of those boxes and then some! They’re versatile, delicious, and, according to Blue Zones expert Dan Buettner, they’re possibly the only real superfood. So we’ll keep up our outreach programs. We’ll be launching new public relations campaigns; these will kick off in the UK and then continue on to other markets. We’re going to enhance our global social media and continue with new bean influencers in Japan and Southeast Asia, too.
We launched a new pulse health alliance in Mexico to increase awareness of the health qualities of beans and we’re pushing forward worldwide with bean flours and ingredients. We’re very excited to be making our bean-flour debut at Anufood in Brazil, and we will continue to promote all forms of beans in all their beauty and deliciousness.
I'm excited to see our global reps returning to trade shows and presenting at new events around the world, particularly in the EU and UK. We’re also proceeding with our exciting chef partnerships and looking to create some new, fun alliances with new food manufacturers.
We’re certainly facing policy challenges around the world, but, after four years, the EU has lifted their retaliatory tariffs on US dry bean imports and we're looking to step up our presence across Europe. We’re also looking to send our beans to Ukraine and to the Ukrainian people as they suffer through horrific conditions. We hope to be able to contribute in our own way, providing dry beans to US-government and international organizations like the World Food Programme.
We’re very grateful for your sponsorship at Pulses 22. Can you tell me what prompted you to get involved?
GPC is critical to us, as it’s the only global body representing the interests of the global pulse industry and bringing key players together. Beyond sales, it's vital to us to have a voice at global fora on cross-cutting issues that impact our work; trade policy challenges are best addressed multilaterally when they affect all of us. It’s important for us to be involved with such an important global forum, particularly when we’re addressing big challenges like climate change, sustainability, and phytosanitary barriers to trade like low or zero tolerance on maximum residue limits (MRLs).
Is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to at Pulses 22 or in Dubai?
It's been a while since folks have been together in person to discuss the global pulse dynamic. As noted, the world has certainly changed; a lot has happened in the last two years, and I'm looking forward to hearing about other people's experiences and lessons during this time. We can all learn from each other and share ideas and inspiration. Ultimately, I think that global industry unity in the face of unprecedented challenges — and opportunities — is critical, and I expect some good dialogue, interaction and a refreshed policy agenda from this conference.
Is there a message from the USDBC that you’d like to share with other industry members as we move into a new planting season?
Honestly, I probably have more than one message! But I would say that we need to be more resilient than ever to face this global marketplace. There are many things we can't control: weather, pandemics, etc. But we can continue to focus on innovation, quality, and ongoing scientific advancements and we can take advantage of this moment for the dry bean. We are truly having a moment, may it be a long one!