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Chippewa Valley beans — for breakfast in Britain

Wisconsin State Roundup

October 1, 1993

Chippewa Valley beans — for breakfast in Britain

Chippewa Valley Bean Co. processes and markets 25 percent of dark red kidney beans grown in the United States—and 70 percent of them are destined for the United Kingdom and Europe.

Located near Menomonie in western Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Bean grew out of a family farm in 1969 and began exporting in the early 1980s.

The company's best customer is the United Kingdom, where beans are consumed four times as often as in the United States. Cindy Brown, Chippewa Valley's vice president of international marketing, says the company has been fortunate since it began exporting to England. "The dollar-[British] pound relationship has been good," Brown says. "But we might see a drop in sales if the dollar gets stronger," she warns.

Chippewa Valley also sells to Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Italy. In Italy, the beans are canned and resold in other markets.

Doing business with European Community countries is easy because beans are traded openly, and all countries operate with the same 3 percent import duty, Brown says. The major market fluctuations come with a change in people's eating habits, she adds.

While domestic canners look first at the price of beans then quality, the reverse is true of European buyers, Brown says. And it's the private supermarket labels that look for the highest quality bean in Europe; just the opposite of the United States, Brown says, where the highest quality products are generally purchased by canners of national brands.

When the company began exporting, it worked through a broker to sell its beans. But in 1989 Chippewa Valley switched to a British agent, a move that has paid off with an 18 percent jump in export sales. And recently the company began a joint venture with a European marketing firm to tap into new markets.

Chippewa Valley has thus far avoided the market fluctuations that some agricultural products have experienced, Brown says. "We've been lucky— demand and production have grown together."

As the largest originator of dark red kidney beans in the nation, Chippewa Valley processed about 26.6 million pounds, or the equivalent of 80 million, 15 1/2 ounce cans, of dark red kidney beans in 1992. In addition to processing its own crop, Chippewa Valley purchases beans from growers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Indiana.

Kathy Cobb