Canadian lentil quality issue of contention with buyers

Canada’s lentil industry is again facing customer complaints about the unpredictable quality of its shipments.

Stat Publishing reports that overseas buyers are unhappy with inconsistencies in Canada’s green lentil exports.

“Some traders believe over half of the country’s exports have been subject to quality claims because of wide variation in the No. 2 grade fraction,” stated Stat in an article published April 15.

“From their perspective, product that should be graded no higher than an Extra 3 Canada has been graded as No. 2.”

Similar complaints were raised last year at the Global Pulse Convention in Turkey where buyers from Egypt and United Arab Emirates talked about the inconsistency in Canadian shipments.

Colin Topham, president of the Canadian Special Crops Association, said 2016 was the third year of quality challenges with the lentil crop and that has led to increased customer complaints but not to the extent Stat is reporting.

“That seems very high to me,” he said. “That is the first that I’ve ever heard of anything close to that.”

Topham said the quality was variable, with lots of damage in western Saskatchewan and plenty of good crops in southern Alberta, so it depends on where the processing plants are located.

He said every processor is looking at their quality protocols to ensure they’re doing everything possible to meet buyer expectations but sometimes they fall short.

“There’s a lot of complaints this year over blended quality,” he said.

“The general comment has been that quality has been over-blended and the lack of uniformity has been challenging to process.”

Stat said there is a lack of trust in the Canadian grading system, which provides a competitive advantage to other lentil exporters.

Stat said Canada is losing market share in places like Peru where buyers feel the U.S. delivers lentils with more consistent quality attributes.

Daryl Beswitherick, program manager of quality assurance with the Canadian Grain Commission, said nothing has changed with Canada’s grain grading system.

He believes part of the customer confusion and angst stems from lentils being marketed as No. 2 or better.

In a year with good growing and harvest conditions, that means the shipments will be full of No. 1 lentils. In a bad year, it could be full of product that is at the bottom of the No. 2 grade.

“They’re comparing what they received one year to what they’re receiving this year and saying, ‘this is not the same product,’ ” said Beswitherick.

Another complicating factor is that the Canadian Grain Commission assigns grades only on bulk shipments but a lot of lentils are sold in containers.

Container shipments receive grades from private companies and they can be sold on specifications that are outside of statutory grade requirements.

Beswitherick said those shipments sold on spec may come into play in some of this buyer confusion.

He said there is no doubt that this year’s lentil crop was subpar, especially the greens, in which12 percent of the crop graded No. 1 and 50 percent No. 2 compared to 14 percent No. 1 and 71 percent No. 2 the previous year.

Topham said there is another reason that complaints are rising.

“Moving from a high-priced environment into a lower price environment tends to drive a lot of this conversation,” he said.

“There is a big amount of added stress to the buyers and distributors.”

Topham said some buyers who are using the quality issue as an excuse to get out of unfavourable contracts may find it difficult to buy Canadian pulses in the future.

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