Rising appetite for hummus supporting chickpeas

Growing North American demand for hummus should benefit Canadian chickpea growers as the Middle Eastern dip finds its way onto more and more grocery shelves.

Chickpeas were highlighted in the Wall Street Journal recently in an article titled “Hummus is conquering America,” detailing how health-conscious consumers were driving demand for hummus, with sales for the chickpea-based dip rising 25 per cent or more over the past two years according to the latest market research.

The majority of the U.S. chickpea crop is grown in the Pacific Northwest, but the article also noted how efforts were underway to expand production along the Eastern Seaboard.

One major processor of hummus for the U.S. and Canadian markets, Sabra Dipping — a joint venture between PepsiCo and Israel’s Strauss Group — last month broke ground on a US$86 million expansion for its plant in Virginia.

“It’s a very interesting, high-value opportunity for growers,” said Carl Potts, executive director of the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, on the hummus market.

Canadian chickpeas are well located to competitively access the expanding hummus market, with the CDC Frontier variety of kabuli chickpea grown in Saskatchewan used extensively in producing the dip.

Companies involved in purchasing chickpeas for hummus are also showing interest in developing better varieties, toward which Saskatchewan is well suited, said Potts.

Canada grew 158,000 tonnes of chickpeas in 2012-13 on 200,000 acres of seeded land, according to Statistics Canada data. The U.S. had a similar sized crop, producing 150,000 tonnes on an acreage base of 206,000 acres, according to U.S. data.

Saskatchewan accounts for most of the chickpeas grown in Canada, while Washington and Idaho are the major U.S. chickpea-producing states. U.S. chickpea area is forecast to hit a record of 214,300 acres in 2013, according to USDA data, while Canadian acres are forecast to decline to 155,000, according to StatsCan.

Most of the crop grown in Canada is still exported offshore, but the growth numbers around hummus in North America are very strong. “That is a market that is growing faster than the overall growth consumption in the export market,” said Potts.

Where chickpeas are grown will ultimately be tied to economics, with the best return per acre the key driver going forward.

Saskatchewan may be farther away from the major food processors, which are usually located closer to population centres, but Potts said the province still maintained a competitive advantage from a land use perspective.

Canada has more than enough chickpeas to work with for the time being. Chickpea supplies in the country, as of March 31, came in at 111,000 tonnes, according to StatsCan data. That’s the largest stocks for that time of year since 2004.

However, while the larger supplies have caused prices to slip from their highs of a year ago, chickpeas remain very attractive and pencil in very well in those areas best suited to growing the crop, said Potts.

Bids for large diameter kabuli chickpeas can currently be found as high as 41 cents per pound, according to the latest Prairie Ag Hotwire data, with desi varieties priced around 27 cents per pound.

While StatsCan placed intended chickpea acres at 155,000, Potts estimated that area could still reach 200,000 if the weather co-operates.

Of that total, about 90 per cent will likely be kabuli varieties, which are used to make hummus. The remainder will go to the smaller desi varieties, which are primarily sold into India.

— Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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