By Christopher Marinangeli
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that Canadians are familiar with the nutritive value of beans. Early days saw empty grocery store shelves where canned and bags of dry beans were previously abundant, as uncertainty around supply chains caused Canadians to stockpile nutrient-dense foods. However, even before the pandemic, dry beans were and continued to be a staple in the pantries of Canadians, often reserved for recipes such as chili, stews, or tacos. But the versatility of Canadian beans goes well beyond more traditional recipes, which is why Pulse Canada is working to inject a modern and passionate sentiment into beans by emphasizing their taste and versatility as a nutritious and locally grown source of plant protein.
Few Canadians realize the beans they have in their cupboard were grown right in their backyard—with several varieties, from black beans to kidney beans to pinto beans, grown by farmers across Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta. In fact, Canada is leading global producer of dry beans. Consumed as a source of nutritious plant-based protein for centuries across cultures, Canadian dry beans not only support a sustainable local economy, they also offer positive benefits for those consuming them regularly. A recent study conducted at the University of Guelph demonstrated that one cup of beans per day lowered “bad” cholesterol by 8% over four weeks. Also, it is impossible to escape national and international calls to increase consumption of plant-based protein in diets which may lead to a decrease in risk factors for chronic disease. Canada’s Food Guide acknowledges that many plant protein foods can boost the dietary fibre levels of diets, which has been associated with a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Where do beans fit? Just half a cup serving of dry beans adds 9 grams of plant protein and fibre to diets, not to mention iron, zinc, folate, magnesium, and potassium.
Grown by Canadian farmers, dry beans are an obvious choice for enhancing nutrient density of the diets of Canadians, but barriers exist. Even with the recent iteration of the Canada’s Food Guide, not enough Canadians are taking advantage of this multi-faceted and locally grown food. The lack of investment across the retail and foodservice sectors represents a missed opportunity both for the economy and for the consumer. Canadian bean growers aim to change that.
In 2021, Pulse Canada engaged in a research project to define the equity of Canadian beans among Canadian consumers. While infrequent and non-consumers viewed beans as “boring,” “old-fashioned,” and “out-of-date,” various opportunities were shown to create a renewed value proposition linked to perceptions of “modern,” “creativity,” and “passion.” Understanding that 8 in 10 consumers agreed that dry beans are a good source of plant-based protein as a whole food to incorporate into changing diets, we decided to put that data to work.
Over the next year, Pulse Canada is working with chefs, dietitians, and farmers across Canada to show Canadians the versatility and elegance that varieties of Canadian beans can bring to the kitchen. In addition to nutritional attributes, a focus on taste and versatility to elevate foods in new recipes will underpin these efforts. The recently launched “Love Canadian Beans” campaign aims to remind Canadians of the benefits of the beans in their pantry while showcasing exciting new ways to use them across meal occasions and events. What has also become apparent is that Canadians want Canadian food. As trends around locally sourced food continues to resonate, our data show that less than half of Canadians know beans are grown by local farmers, at a time when 84% of respondents say they want foods produced by Canadian farmers.
With a robust supply chain and consumer alignment with the food experiences that beans offer, Canadian beans farmers are excited to provide Canadians with options that also foster the adoption of healthy plant-forward diets.