Founder update: Musings on our sourcing model & mission (June 2023)
Hi PB community,
Spring is well underway, and when I’m not enjoying the outdoors, I’m busy at work planning the next harvest with our farmers (and making sure we’re the best darndest bean brand we can be!). I’m happy to announce that plans are now set in stone for each of our growing regions – from Michigan to Mexico. I’m always so grateful to spend time with our farm partners, who I learn from each year. Below, some musings from the past few weeks of planning:
Our commitment to focus on regional varieties
2 ½ years in business, our mission has never been clearer: Bring super-fresh, regional favorites to US home kitchens to give the world’s perfect food – from a nutritional, planetary, and culinary perspective – the love it deserves. (We recently received a nice shout out from Food Business News about our “fresh spin” on the industry.)
I'd like to take a moment to highlight the distinction between regional and heirloom beans, since "heirloom" has become a catch-all for beans that aren’t part of the commodity system. By definition, the word means “an old, open-pollinated variety that has been passed down from generation to generation,” but there’s a whole world of tasty beans out there that don’t necessarily fit this mold. In fact, many varieties marketed as “heirloom” aren’t heirlooms at all!
Primary Beans is intentional with our language, since we believe it’s our duty to show home cooks that our food system is so much more complex than could ever be summed up in a single word. Heirlooms are often challenging to grow due to lower yields and issues with plant disease. And it’s our belief that to actually shift the needle in how we all incorporate beans into our daily lives, we need to make tasty, regional varieties more accessible – whether heirloom or not.
To us, regional varieties are long-standing favorites, evolving from the specific cultural practices and growing conditions of the region. They’re not part of the commodity system, are grown by people who keep soils healthy and protect the environment, and have incredible cooking traits. They’re beans that farmers are thrilled to grow.
- Armando in Zacatecas likes Flor de Junio because it’s a cultural touchstone in his local community and is well-adapted to the region.
- Cooper in Idaho says Southwest Gold and Southwest Red have demonstrated important resilience to heat and other weather extremes.
- Fran in Michigan says Mayocoba isn't subject to the same pest and disease pressures as other varieties in her more humid growing environment.
- Jeff in Montana prefers his tiny Chickpea variety because it requires very little water in a region that is faced with severe drought.
The real cost of producing & distributing quality beans
Despite what beans at the grocery store might lead you to believe, growing and cleaning quality beans is expensive. Beans are tiny, delicate, and have lots of contact with the dust and stones that make up this earth. The $0.99 per lb bag of Goya beans on the grocery shelf are commodity beans. It’s a model that lends itself to very few varieties that are well suited to the large-scale equipment used. There’s nothing wrong with $0.99 beans, and it’s what many people can afford. But, like any highly commodified industry, we lose out on a lot: diversity, flavor, transparency, to name a few.
In contrast, Primary Beans are grown with conscious practices, at a smaller scale, cleaned using manual methods, and are delivered straight to you. $7-9 per lb is where we’re at as a company right now, but it’s a range we hope to bring down as we continue to grow. We’ve already realized some efficiencies and project more to come (with all your continued support!). In the meantime, our current pricing is our best foot forward to offer special beans at a reasonable price, cover our costs, and make some kind of profit to be able to sustain us in the long term.
The path forward
There are some exciting new launches in the pipeline, but these things take time – starting with lots of testing, then building seedstock and crossing our fingers for favorable weather.
In the meantime, make the most of our current harvest! Elevate your warm weather cooking by pairing freshly cooked beans with all the delicious seasonal produce and any one of our dozens of recipes. And remember: your pressure cooker can be your summer cooking hero.
There’s so much more to come as we deepen our commitment to our identity and values, and I so look forward to continuing on this journey with you.
Lesley, Founder & CEO