Year of Pulses smashing success

Pulse Canada chief executive officer Gordon Bacon, left, presents U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil chief executive officer Tim McGreevy with a pulse promoter superhero cape for the work he has done promoting pulses in North America.  |  Sean Pratt photo

Vancouver — One of the main objectives of International Year of Pulses 2016 was to increase consumption of the crops in North America, and that has happened in a big way.

Based on an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture stocks data, domestic consumption of pulses in the United States will reach 900,000 tonnes in 2016-17, up from 350,000 tonnes the previous year.

“That is a rocket rise,” Tim McGreevy, chief executive officer of the U.S. Dry Pea and Lentil Council, told delegates attending Pulses 2017.

“So you farmers and traders in Canada and the U.S. who invested in this campaign, here’s the payoff.”

North America has some of the lowest consumption rates of pulses in the world: four kilograms per person in 2015 compared to 61 kg for wheat and 76 kg for meat.

McGreevy said that is a head-scratcher, given that pulses are high in protein, fibre, potassium, folate and other nutritious elements.

“We are tops. No one can beat us as a crop,” he said.

Pulses are also sustainable in that they don’t require a lot of water and fix their own nitrogen.

“By God, we have the trifecta because we are also affordable,” McGreevy said.

Erika Simms, vice-president of communications at Maxwell PR, said the problem is that many North Americans don’t know anything about pulses.

“People are really, really uneducated about it,” she said.

The target group for the North American campaign comprises 18 to 34 year olds, commonly known as millennials. Consumer research showed they thought pulses were gassy food that old people, poor people and hippies ate.

The challenge was to convince them that pulses fit their lifestyle, which is all about health and sustainability.

The pulse industry took to social media, using advertising campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and using bloggers, dietitians and health media to spread the message.

The goal was to generate 500 million media impressions, 500,000 unique website visits and have 50,000 people take the pulse pledge to incorporate pulses into their diets for a short period.

By the end of the IYOP campaign it had generated 3.44 billion media impressions in North America, 827,000 unique website visits and 59,000 pulse pledges.

McGreevy said the campaign was hugely successful, but that is just the start.

“2016 was the year of the pulses; 2017 to 2025 is going to be the decade of the pulses,” he said.

“We are trying to transform the way we think of food.”

Pulse organizations in Canada and the U.S. have set a target of boosting North American consumption to 5.2 kg per person by 2020 and eventually to 6.2 kg per person.

“That would generate one million tonnes of new demand here in North America,” he said.

Accomplishing that goal would mean everybody in North America eating half a cup of pulses three times a week, which is what is recommended in U.S. dietary guidelines.

That is what is behind the industry’s latest campaign, the Half Cup Habit, where consumers commit to eating half a cup of pulses three times a week for four weeks.

Simms said the 2017 campaign targets are two billion media impressions, 700,000 unique website visits and 50,000 Half Cup Habit participants. She said they are well on the way to meeting those goals.

McGreevy said they learned a lot of lessons from the 2016 IYOP campaign:

  • The need for new product innovation. “It has to taste good. It has to be enjoyable to eat,” he said.
  • Continue promoting the nutrition benefits of eating pulses because it’s a message that resonates with consumers.
  • Weight management is the primary concern of American consumers, so that needs to be used in advertising campaigns.
  • There needs to be a bit of fear mongering in advertising, preying on people’s concerns about diabetes and heart disease. “You can’t play the fear card too much, but you can play it a little bit. It is motivating,” said McGreevy.

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