Chippewa Valley Bean Co. processes and markets 25 percent of dark red
kidney beans grown in the United Statesand 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.