Growers look to squeeze more profit from their crop with new peanut milk
Peanut hucksters are a fixture of American culture, showing up along Southern backroads and in songs about ballgames. But Ethan Patzer and Cristal Teneyck didn’t have anything boiled or bagged to hawk last month at a street festival on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
“Peanut milk!” Teneyck roared. “Try some peanut milk today!”
Teneyck was perched behind the walk-up counter of a retrofitted Airstream trailer that contains all of the American peanut industry’s hopes for its future. She and Patzer are traveling around the country in the National Peanut Board-sponsored promotional vehicle, trying to get nondairy drinkers hooked on the first new category of peanut products since 1894, when a St. Louis businessman devised a machine to make peanuts as spreadable as butter.
“There were alternative milks on the shelf, and we felt like peanuts could fit in that space quite well,” says National Peanut Board president Bob Parker. “Peanuts are just a fraction of the cost of tree nuts, and so we thought we could achieve nutritional goals that others couldn’t.”
In other words, farmers across the Southeast were chafing at the success of almond milk, which experienced a 250 percent sales surge between 2010 and 2015. And since peanuts command about 22 cents a pound, as compared to $3 for almonds, they were sure they could grind a higher volume of peanuts, which means more protein for consumers, and more money for growers, into a 32-fluid-ounce carton without ruffling household grocery budgets.
But the strategy will only work if Americans take to the flavor of peanut milk, now being produced exclusively by an upstate New York manufacturer. Under the brand name Elmhurst, Steuben Foods this spring began selling plain and chocolate-flavored “Milked Peanuts.”
Chocolate is the clear favorite of festivalgoers, according to Patzer, who poured peanut milk for 5,000 people at Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon before rolling on to Arlington, Va.
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“You’ll like the chocolate,” he assured Richard Ellis and Michael Brown of Ballston, Va.
“That’s good,” Ellis told the chronically upbeat Patzer, who’s prone to flashing thumbs-up signs. “A little bit like a chocolate Frosty,” Brown agreed, referencing the Wendy’s fast food chain’s signature dessert.
But when the men stepped away from the trailer, they revised their opinions slightly.
“It’s not bad: A little bitter,” Brown said. Ellis agreed: “It takes some getting used to.”
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