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This may not be the best time to be a hummus fan

With weather and war affecting the global supplies of chickpeas, cheap protein and hummus could be harder to find

Chickpeas are made into hummus, flour, soups, stews and curries. Photo: Unsplash
Chickpeas are made into hummus, flour, soups, stews and curries. Photo: Unsplash

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Global supplies of chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, could dip as much as 20 per cent this year, according to data from the Global Pulse Confederation. Weather and war have hurt supplies of the protein-packed bean, driving up food prices and creating headaches for food manufacturers.

Chickpeas are made into hummus, flour, soups, stews and curries. While they are growing in popularity in the United States, they have long been key to the diets of people in India and the Middle East—places that are already struggling to cover rising costs of food imports.

Farmers in the United States—the No. 4 chickpea exporter—planted fewer chickpeas this year as poor weather bogged down spring planting and they prioritised more lucrative commodity crops like wheat and corn, government data shows.

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Meanwhile, top buyers from South Asia and the Mediterranean are trying to scoop up dwindling US stocks as supplies shrink worldwide and as the war between Russia and Ukraine—both producers of chickpeas —exacerbates disruptions to global supply chains.

"When the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, the demand boomed," says Jeff Van Pevenage, chief executive officer of Columbia Grain International, grain and pulse merchandiser and supplier, headquartered in Portland, Oregon. "We saw strong demand from China, then it was calls from customers in Pakistan and Bangladesh."

Ukraine could not seed its total chickpea crop due to the war, removing 50,000 tonnes normally bound for Europe, says Navneet Singh Chhabra, director of Shree Sheela International, a global chickpea trader and brokerage firm.

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Sanctions aimed at cutting Russia's access to the global financial system have also hampered purchases of its agricultural products, he says, as some buyers seek to avoid complications with payment. A top chickpea exporter, Russia normally accounts for about 25% of global trade, he says.

"Russia is exporting around 200,000 to 250,000 tonnes, minimum, per year. When the war started in February, the supply was destroyed, totally," adds Chhabra.

Transportation problems have exacerbated supply constraints and added to rising prices, particularly in the United States.

Ocean vessel backlogs in the Pacific Northwest have forced some grain merchants to ship chickpea containers by railcar thousands of miles, taking more expensive and circuitous routes to fulfill orders.

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Columbia Grain International usually exports some of its chickpeas by ocean vessel through the Pacific Northwest. But as West Coast ports were snarled up, Columbia Grain last fall started sending chickpeas by rail to Houston, Texas, in search of available ocean transport—nearly doubling shipping costs, Van Pevenage said.

As overburdened train lines also backed up, those chickpeas arrived at the port long after the ships sailed. "We've had product sitting in Houston for eight weeks, waiting for an outbound vessel," says Van Pevenage. Columbia Grain is now considering shipping to Charleston, South Carolina, Van Pevenage adds.

Hummus maker Sabra Dipping Company is keeping ample supplies on hand "to safeguard against the unexpected," says Chief Executive Joey Bergstein.

The company wrestled with production disruptions during a plant upgrade this year in Chesterfield County, Virginia, which had customers sending out a barrage of complaints on Twitter and Facebook about hummus shortages.


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