The Kansas Food Bank’s cupboard of peanut butter is full now, but a peanut crop scorched by summer heat means that future supplies for the needy could be curtailed.
Peanut butter prices have gone up at least 30 percent recently because of hot weather in peanut-growing states such as Texas and Georgia and because some farmers have switched to more profitable crops such as corn and cotton.
“Knowing about the upcoming shortage a couple months ago, we made a big forward purchase of peanut butter,” Debi Kreutzman, director of community relations for the food bank, said. “We were able to stock up a few months’ worth, but once that’s gone, the projected price skyrocketing is going to hurt us tremendously.”
The food bank supplies 33 pantries in the Wichita area, and peanut butter is a staple because it’s a good source of protein that has a long shelf life and is loved by children.
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“Some of our agencies don’t have the capacity to do the lunch meat or the frozen products,” Kreutzman said. “They like to have peanut butter or tuna.”
The food bank plans to continue to give peanut butter to the needy even when supplies start to dwindle, including putting jars of it in backpacks of food that schoolchildren receive weekly. But peanut butter may be put into a rotation with other protein sources such as Vienna sausages, Beanee Weenee and beef jerky, Kreutzman said.
Catholic Charities is the benefactor of three peanut-butter drives, including two record-breaking collections just completed by Bishop Carroll and Kapaun Mount Carmel high schools, said Heather Welch, marketing manager for the charity.
“Right now we’re blessed with an abundance of private donations,” Welch said. But an increased need in the community means it doesn’t last, she said.
“It’s not that we have a shortage of a particular item; we just can’t keep it on the shelves because there’s such a need. We rely on those donations day by day. We get the donations in – people are very generous – but we can’t keep it on the shelf.”
Kevin Enz of the food bank said he is staying on the lookout for good prices for peanut butter, even considering the possibility of buying imports, perhaps from Argentina.
As businesses hold food drives this holiday season, Kreutzman has been asking them especially for peanut butter. “Especially if they’re going to weigh food, I tell them, ‘Peanut butter weighs a lot!’ ”
Pointing up the importance of peanut butter at food pantries, a tub designated expressly for collecting it has long been a fixture at Church of the Magdalen on East 21st Street. Whenever the tub in the foyer fills up, the peanut butter is delivered to Catholic Charities. No decline has been noticed in donations despite the increase in prices, pastoral minister Ted Cook said.
“The people who do that are pretty dedicated to it,” Cook said. “They buy a jar or two – maybe it’s 50 or 60 cents more, they’re not fazed by that. If it were people buying cases of it, they might be.”
Food banks said higher food prices also have led to less peanut butter and other foods being available through U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity programs, in which the government buys surpluses of certain items to help balance supply and demand and makes them available to schools and nonprofits.
The national hunger-relief charity Feeding America anticipates distributing half as many commodities this fiscal year as it did in the one that ended June 30, spokeswoman Maura Daly said.
The USDA did not respond to requests for comment.
The American Peanut Council, an industry trade group, is keeping an eye on how prices affect charities that depend on peanut butter.
“We’ll probably do some work over the next year to try to get consumers to help out,” said Stephanie Grunenfelder, vice president for international marketing. “It’s always the poor who suffer the most when prices are high, unfortunately. Even though peanut butter is going to be more expensive, it’s still a pretty economical protein source for people that are struggling to get by.”
Contributing: Associated Press