One food industry reaping the benefits of people staying home: Peanuts

Andy Uhler Sep 22, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
Peanut consumption is at an all-time high during the pandemic. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

One food industry reaping the benefits of people staying home: Peanuts

Andy Uhler Sep 22, 2020
Peanut consumption is at an all-time high during the pandemic. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Grayson Wilmeth was a little distracted when he answered his cellphone on his farm in Dilley, Texas, about an hour southwest of San Antonio.

“There’s a whole bunch of coyotes running across my peanut fields as I’m talking to you,” he said, pointing the predators out to his kids.

Those coyotes can do some serious damage to a peanut field. Wilmeth and his crew are only a few weeks from harvest, so the fields are nice and green.

He needs all hands on deck, but that’s tougher that usual to pull off right now.

“My employees have had or have tested positive for COVID,” he explained. “My wife and I also tested positive about three or four weeks ago. So we’ve had to deal with this the entire growing season of these peanuts, being short-staffed.”

Nobody on his farm got too sick, so work was able to continue as long as people were quarantined in their own pickup trucks and tractors.

What’s more, he said the federal government strongly encouraged farmers like him to keep producing during the pandemic.

“And that’s what made things complicated is that they’re pushing us to keep growing food obviously,” he said. “They want us to keep working while everybody else is getting to stay at home.”

At home, Americans are eating a lot of peanuts. Consumption is at an all-time high.

“We saw peanut butter sales up in March 75% year over year,” said Ryan Lepicier with the National Peanut Board.

About 80% of the peanuts grown in the U.S. are runner peanuts, which are overwhelmingly ground into peanut butter. Forty percent of the peanuts grown in Texas are that variety.

“We’ve got all these parents working from home. They’re needing quick, easy meals for their kids or their kids,” said Shelly Nutt, executive director of the Texas Peanut Producers Board. “Kids are going to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again, which has been great for our industry.”

Great for the peanut industry, sure, but a spike in demand means more work.

“They need all hands on deck shelling peanuts,” Nutt said. “And every time someone gets sick they’re out for two weeks and they’re having a shortage of help on the plant floor.”

She said peanuts have seen a climb in price over the last four or five months and are still trending up. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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