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CGI starts Balanced Bushel line of pulses, bean

Columbia Grain International (CGI), the leading export supplier of bulk conventional and organic grain, pulses, edible beans and oilseeds worldwide, is launching their own packaged pulse products, keeping more of the farm dollar within its grower network.

Called Balanced Bushel, CGI will sell packaged beans and pulses in certain stores and to domestic food aid programs – at least at first.

“We’re excited about our first venture into the packaged pulse market,” said Tony Roelofs, vice president of the pulse division at CGI. “Balanced Bushel will help support our local farmers and the farm economy by providing them with another outlet for their commodities and we’re bringing a great product to the market.”

Bean and pulse growers in Montana, North Dakota, and the Pacific Northwest, harvest their high-quality edible beans and pulses and haul them to CGI for transporting to export and domestic markets.

Now, some of those commodities will be procured, cleaned, sized, polished and packaged at CGI’s pulse processing plant in Hastings, Neb., which has a 286,000-bushel raw product storage capacity with a 60,000-square-foot processing building. CGI anticipates processing over 50,000 metric tons of pulses per year at this location alone.

The processed beans and pulses will be packaged into eight SKUs for the market, including 16-ounce navy beans, 32-ounce pinto beans, 32-ounce black beans, 16-and 32-ounce chickpeas, 16-ounce split green peas and 16-ounce small red beans.

Roelofs felt 2022 was the right time to launch their packaged pulse program partially because of the expansion of USDA’s Section 32 program.

USDA has reported it would spend $2 billion this year under an expansion of Section 32 funds that would go toward child nutrition and other domestic food programs due to widening poverty in the U.S.

“Certainly, we’ve been battling inflation in the U.S. and around the world, especially as it pertains to food. We’ve heard a lot about food programs expanding to help people with food needs, and pulses play a big role in that,” he said. “They are a low-cost, shelf-stable, delicious food, so they work really well in food aid programs like that.”

Roelofs pointed out the packaged pulses and beans have a high expiration date, so they last a long time and don’t need to be refrigerated. Packages of beans and pulses provide many meals per package, which helps families deal with food inflation and brings a very nutritious product to mealtime.

In addition, with COVID and now inflation, “there are a lot of hungry people out there,” Roelofs said. “This is a great way for us to put nutritious food on plates throughout the country and bring value back to the U.S. farmer,” he said.

Another reason that CGI ventured into packaged pulses and beans is because of increasing market demand, especially since the United Nations recognized pulses during a global event called World Pulses Day on Feb. 10, 2022.

CGI also wanted to increase the value of the commodities with a different market for their farmer network.

“We work to provide the best markets to our farmers that we work with – that’s the core of our company. Being able to present a more value-added market to our producers is something that is really important to us, and we saw Balanced Bushel as of way to bring more value to their commodities,” he said.

CGI has several elevators/suppliers in Montana and North Dakota.

Their pulse processing facility in Ross, N.D., is putting in new cleaning equipment and going through an expansion that will allow for greater flexibility in shipping options for food companies.

2021 was a drought year across the Northern Plains and areas where CGI sources many of their beans and pulses.

“It was a challenging year for us and our producers, and it hurt our production with pulse products,” he said. “But we did the best we could to work with what we had. We are much more encouraged this year with some of the rains we have seen. Some farmers in North Dakota battled wet conditions, but we’re hopeful for a better year for them.”

Supply chain issues are still a problem in the U.S., but that isn’t going to stop CGI from moving forward with their Balanced Bushel venture.

“It is a big challenge for us. There’s been a lack of truckers and we’ve had challenges with rail cars and containers (waiting for ships to take them at ports). We export a large amount of pulses. When we have been facing container issues like we have the last two years, it is a challenge to get your product out to markets,” he said.

Meanwhile, CGI is working out which stores will first receive their products when Balanced Bushel launches in the market.

“We’re hopeful we can work out an e-commerce venture, as well, and sell our products online,” Roelofs concluded.

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