Ag Exporter of the Year illustrates state’s promising dry bean industry
With the International Year of Pulses declared for 2016, the talk about beans has become more than a dinner table affair. While all this attention has dry bean industries around the globe looking to raise the bar, high-quality beans are simply the standard in Michigan.
“I attribute that to our second-, third- and fourth-generation growers, our climate, and our astute processors,” says Joe Cramer, executive director of the Michigan Bean Commission. “I think we’re also logistically well positioned to take care of our customers. Presently, our biggest export partner is Mexico and because of our strong, long-term relationships there, black beans have risen to the No. 1 bean.”
Additional key markets include the United Kingdom for navy beans, Italy for navy beans and cranberry beans, and small red (chili) beans to the Caribbean. Not to mention pinto beans are the No. 1 bean consumed across the U.S., making the state’s dry bean exports an important contributor to economic growth.
“We export 35 to 40 percent of what we produce annually, so without export markets, we’d be floating in beans,” Cramer says.
Though export growth for the packaged and canned bean markets has matured, the future remains bright as innovative uses for bean protein hit grocery shelves.
Used as a compliment to traditional flour, bean protein increases nutritional value and is poised to change the look of energy bars, breakfast cereal, chips and even ice cream.
“If you look at the challenge of producing enough protein to feed the world, beans are perfect,” Cramer says. “They’re healthy, very nutrient dense and sustainable. They’re the food of the future.”
Feeding the world one bean at a time, Star of the West Milling Co. started exporting in the early 1970s. Today, Star of the West sells edible soybeans, dry edible bean products and flour across four continents, reaching Canada, Guatemala, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico and South Korea, and most recently expanding to Columbia, El Salvador, Italy, Poland, South Africa and Spain.
With a mission to meet and exceed the expectations of customers, the company experienced 27 percent growth in export sales from 2013 through 2014. Star of the West won the Ag Exporter of the Year award in 2015 for its achievements.
“Because of the increase in exports, it’s created an additional three full-time positions,” says Robert Chandonnet, vice president of edible bean sales at Star of the West and marketing director at Bayside Best Beans.
Job growth created from increased exports is just one criteria reviewed for award consideration. Additionally, export growth, economic impact for the state’s agriculture industry and the company’s “export culture” – whether exports are part of company philosophy and structure – are important.
“With our previous winners, we’ve had a lot of diversity,” says Jamie Zmitko-Somers, manager of MDARD’s International Marketing Program, which assists food and agricultural companies with a suite of services including export assistance. “It’s one of the great stories of the award and the agricultural industry as a whole in Michigan – a variety of products that showcase all Michigan offers to the world.”
For Star of the West, the award solidifies the company’s commitment to export excellence through effective strategies from establishing long-term relationships to studying market trends and analyzing global production.
“This honor would not be possible without the support of MDARD,” Chandonnet says. “We appreciate the strong relationship and trust we’ve established with MDARD over the years.”
Looking toward the future, Star of the West plans to continue its outreach to new trading partners. One prospect on the radar is Cuba, which prompted Chandonnet to visit the country in the spring of 2015 to investigate market opportunities in the agriculture sector and make sure local farmers would be well represented.
It’s clear that, like all of Michigan’s dry bean industry, Star of the West is destined for great heights.