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A Boom Time for the Bean Industry

The New York Times / By “In one sense, this is like my best dream,” said Mr. McGreevy, who runs a trade group for producers and packagers of pulses, a category of legumes that includes beans. “In another sense, you go, ‘Wow, this is pretty serious.’” As the coronavirus pandemic upends daily life across the United States, Americans are filling their pantries with long-lasting essentials — pasta, rice, canned meat, even oat milk. But amid all the panic shopping, the growing demand for beans has stood out as an especially potent symbol of the anxious and uncertain times. At supermarkets, shoppers are stocking up on canned beans from familiar brands like Goya Foods, as well as thick bags of dry beans that usually lie largely untouched on store shelves.

To some suppliers, the sudden popularity of their once-unfashionable beans feels a little surreal.

“No one ever cares about beans at all,” said Steve Sando, who runs the heirloom bean supplier Rancho Gordo in the Napa Valley. “It’s just shocking. I used to be the loneliest man at the farmer’s market.”

In recent weeks, the buying frenzy has extended to the entire pulses family, including lentils, dry peas and chickpeas as well as beans. Across the industry, canners and packagers have seen a 40 percent increase in sales, Mr. McGreevy said.

065At Goya, the increase has been even more dramatic: Sales of black beans, pinto beans and other canned products have spiked as much as 400 percent. In the last week, Goya has delivered 24 million cans to retailers.

“I’ve seen earthquakes and hurricanes. This is the first time I’ve seen this,” said Bob Unanue, the company’s president. “This is a tsunami, this is a hurricane that’s not hitting one market. It’s hitting all markets.”

Many canners and packagers are hiring staff or adding shifts to meet the surge in demand. Typically, Rancho Gordo receives 150 to 200 orders a day for its specialty beans. On March 14, the company received 1,669 orders. The next day, it recorded an additional 1,450. “We’re not set up for this at all,” Mr. Sando said

At his warehouse, Mr. Sando has instituted a night shift, hiring a handful of workers from a temporary agency to help out. He has told customers to expect delays as long as three or four weeks in fulfilling orders. Some mornings, he said, he wakes up to find that the company has already sold as many beans as it would normally sell in an entire day.

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