By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Without fans flailing their arms to catch a $5 bag of peanuts from a ballpark vendor this year, what will happen to all those leftover legumes?
Most stadiums already shelled out the purchase cost of the bagged ballpark staple, but with a season that potentially plans to limit fans and patrons, the future of food at stadiums appears to be crushed.
With reopening strategies that will differ state by state, and thus ballpark to ballpark, people may not be singing the same tune about peanuts and cracker jacks if there’s no seventh inning stretch.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced Tuesday that the players union reached an agreement with the league and teams to go forward with a shortened 60-game season, but due to government restrictions in the wake of COVID-19, many stadiums will likely be fan-less for the foreseeable future — even though some states have voiced their hope to get fans inside at some point.
The crunchy, salty in-shell peanuts have been a part of America’s pastime for over 100 years, and most of the crops that were harvested ahead of the 2020 season, have already been ordered, shipped and stored by roasters. But now, opening day has no need for the snacks.
Hampton Farms is the country’s top brand of in-shell peanuts that roasts and packages peanuts for 28 of MLB’s 30 teams.
Tom Nolan, vice president of sales and marketing for the North Carolina-based peanut and peanut butter company, told the New York Times that as a result of the pandemic, ”We are basically left holding the peanuts.”
While big peanut suppliers like Hampton Farms and Sachs Peanuts have managed to figure out what to do with the surplus of specialty peanuts, farmers have questioned what will happen to the crops they tended in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak that flipped the script on the agriculture industry.
Virginia peanuts, the specific breed of easy-to-crack, light brown shells that hold two to three crunchy beige seeds inside, are the fan-favorite for bagged in-shell peanuts.
The chief executive officer of the National Peanut Board, Bob Parker, told the Times that the influx of unsold in-shell peanuts at ballparks is “going to be a problem.”
“You can put them in cold storage for a while and hope things will resume, but it doesn’t look so promising,” he said.
With plans for baseball concessions up in the air, the peanut board has reportedly started to consider promotions that would give away free bags of in-shell peanuts to lure back in stadium goers relegated to their homes, to help create the nostalgia of an at-the-game experience, the New York Times explained.
Parker also said an initial spike in Virginia peanut demand at grocery stores during the start of the pandemic could have been spurred by people stocking up on pantry items.
Retail sales for Virginia peanuts went up 15% in May compared to the year prior.
The rest of the peanut processing chain, which includes peanut butter, saw a 75% growth in sales during March, compared to the same time period last year, according to the Times.
Recipes have also resurged in popularity amid the pandemic, like easy-to-make peanut bread that resurfaced from a World War I cooking pamphlet.
Peanut butter, a cheap pantry staple filled with protein, has been a hot commodity as the country faces growing unemployment and a need for affordable groceries.
”We can’t make enough peanut butter for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the food banks,” Nolan told the Times of organizations buying the product in bulk. ”That’s a very sad and sobering comment about our economy.”
He continued, ”Everyone here feels patriotic in a way about work right now — we’re part of what keeps things going.”
The New York Times also found that while the sales from peanut butter help the industry as a whole, it becomes too costly to put the harder-to-grow Virginia varietal into a grinder.
Nolan said he would compare that to “using a really fine beef tenderloin to make ground beef.”
“You can do it, and it would make great peanut butter, but it would be a great economic loss,” he said.
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