FRANKLIN—Skip the Cracker Jacks, and pass the peanut butter. We’re eating sandwiches and watching baseball at home this year.
In-shell peanuts are integral to the American ballpark tradition. Major and minor league fans typically consume up to 7 million bags of peanuts annually. Though COVID-19 restrictions will keep fans away from the abbreviated 2020 baseball season, this year’s supply of peanuts will still hit a grand slam with other products—especially peanut butter.
“The ballfields are a big part of in-shell processors’ business, and something they count on every year,” said Dell Cotton, executive director of the Virginia Peanut Growers Association. “They have to make adjustments considering the circumstances, and sell supplies elsewhere.”
Cotton said most in-shell peanuts sold at ballgames are grown in Virginia and North Carolina. The country’s leading in-shell processer, Hampton Farms, is just across the state line in Severn, North Carolina.
The processors also sell peanut butter, “which is going through the roof,” Cotton said, suggesting that stay-home orders and an unsteady economy have consumers buying a lot more of the inexpensive, shelf-stable product. “Those things seem to put a spur in peanut butter. It’s been hard for some manufacturers to keep supplies.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, commercial processors experienced a 75% higher demand for peanut butter in March, when coronavirus concerns initially surfaced.
Farmers’ income won’t be affected by the market fluctuation, Cotton said, as the peanuts were contracted to be sold before planting.
He noted this season’s peanut supply is high-quality. “When you have to find other ways to use the product, it helps when you have a great product to start with,” he said.
He added that in-shell peanuts are available in the produce section of local grocery stores for those craving that ballpark-style crunch.
Next year’s 26,000 acres of peanuts are already in the ground, to be harvested in the fall.
“When the new crop comes in,” Cotton said, “hopefully ballgames will be there waiting for them.”