Confronting the misinformation about peanut allergens in the public media — and the erroneous perceptions by the public — remains one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. peanut industry, says National Peanut Board President and CEO Bob Parker.
Peanut allergy is a primary focus of the NPB, he said at the Oklahoma Peanut Expo at Altus, but he also outlined marketing and research needs and discussed new products.
A positive step for the peanut industry, Parker says, is a recent report from the American Academy for Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology, showing that early exposure to peanuts significantly reduces the potential for children to develop an allergy. “The study shows that avoiding eating peanut products until age four to prevent allergies is incorrect. Early introduction of peanuts in a child’s diet reduces peanut allergies.” Studies indicate peanuts can be introduced as soon as a child can eat solid food, he says.
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“Peanut allergy is one of our industry’s biggest hurdles,” Parker says. “At NPB, we are monitoring the media, addressing misinformation, and educating reporters about peanut allergies.”
A prevalent bit of misinformation, he says, is that a person with a peanut allergy may have a severe reaction simply by being in close proximity to peanut products. “The only way to have a severe reaction to a peanut is to ingest it. That’s why we continuously monitor negative news stories and respond to writers.”
SMALL PERCENTAGE SUSCEPTIBLE
The public’s perception about the pervasiveness of peanut allergy is also wrong, Parker says. “Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has a peanut allergy, but a survey shows the public believes that number to be 25 percent. They also believe the allergen is airborne. It is not. Check the data.”
He says there is no exact data on how many children have been affected by a peanut ban at school.”
Peanut supply and demand is also a concern for the NPB, he says. “We’re looking for ways to market peanuts and to get more for them. We also want to help producers grow peanuts more efficiently.”
China is a target market, particularly through online commerce. “With 315 million Chinese consumers shopping online, E-commerce is a viable option. Chinese consumers have no trust in their own food supply, but they see U. S. peanuts as premium quality and a safe product. That represents a potential 315 million new customers — that’s a good marketing opportunity.”
New products also offer new market opportunities, Parker says. “Peanut milk was developed by food scientists years ago. It has high protein content, and is nutrient dense. With 7 grams of protein, it is the equivalent of cow’s milk and soy milk, but it tastes better than soy. We are encouraged by the progress we’re making, and hope to see peanut milk on the market in 2017.”
A shift in market focus also holds promise. “We are targeting millennials,” Parker explains. “We don’t have the budget to market to every age group. Baby Boomers are used to print advertising, newspapers and magazines, but we already have the boomers.”
Millennials, age 20 to 37, offer a new opportunity as food and cultural trendsetters, he says. “That’s 80 million people with $1.6 trillion in spending power.”
Millennials represent the first generation that has been told not to bring PB&J to school, Parker says. While they have a preference for nuts in their diets, they don’t have as much enthusiasm for peanuts as for cashews, pistachios and almonds, he says.
“We want to make peanuts relevant to millennials. We’re focusing on social media to reach them. They spend a lot of time on mobile devices instead of reading newspapers and magazines.”
To capitalize on that tendency, NPB and a new ad agency developed a Twitter personality, ‘Peanut Vendor,’ to deliver real-time marketing messages to millennials about the benefits of peanuts. “We’ve had a lot of media attention,” Parker says.
Production research also remains a key target for NPB funding. “We want to lead the way in funding production research,” he says. “We will spend $2.5 million on production research this year, and we’ve spent $21 million since 2000, when NPB was founded. With public funding drying up, our research is more important than ever.”