2016 International Year of Pulses – A Look in the Rear View Mirror

As we are more than aware, certainly now the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP) has ended, Canada is a global leader in pulse production. The global pulse community ensured that this registered on every stakeholder’s radar, from the grower to the consumer and everyone in between.

Madeleine Goodwin is Pulse Canada’s IYP coordinator and she shared her view of the successes and achievements that 2016 was able to put the spotlight on. “Overall, Pulse Canada and the Canadian pulse industry were able to create a greater degree of awareness of the scope and importance of the pulse industry here at home as well as the benefits of pulses as a food or food ingredient,” she explained.

First of all, a quick review of IYP. The United Nations proclaimed 2016 the IYP with the goal of raising awareness about the importance of pulses as both a crop and a food source. The focus of activities was on four main themes including food security, nutrition and innovation; pulses as a great fit for growers on their farms; market access and stability; and creating awareness of the health benefits of consuming pulses regularly.

“There were numerous positive outcomes and fantastic moments in 2016 when I think back on the achievements,” says Goodwin. “However, I think overall there were three over arching outcomes that are going to be critical as we look forward now to continuing to build our message and see those results in increased returns for growers.”

“The levels of collaboration and new partnerships that were created is a major success of IYP I can point to,” explains Goodwin. “By leveraging our existing collaborations and partnerships, we were able to extend those to include new players and groups, both here at home and on the global scene.”

Specifically, Goodwin is encouraged about the connections made with pulse organizations in the U.S. and other pulse players across the globe whose focus is in growing the entire pulse market.  Domestically, connections were established with Ag in the Classroom, with non-profits, with healthcare professionals, and organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association. “Pulses offer so many advantages in dealing with so-called lifestyle diseases on the rise like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and so on,” says Goodwin. “The onus is on us to get out there and share the wealth of knowledge and research with those who are working on managing the health of consumers.”

The second major achievement of IYP was a measurable increase in the awareness and profile of pulses with the campaign Pulse Canada ran with its U.S partners. “This campaign involved all kinds of media and social media,” says Goodwin. “We estimate we reached about three billion people with our message.” Growers might be asking “so what?”, but Goodwin goes on to note that consumer behaviour drives markets. Get the consumer on board to using more pulses in different forms and that pull demand can create steady growth.

The third major achievement was the work done by organizations like Cigi to incorporate pulses into food products such as crackers, pasta, and bread. “Not only is it important to ensure this research is being conducted,” says Goodwin. “It is equally important to inform the end-user that these kinds of nutritional interventions can be made in products without negatively impacting the consumer experience of the product.” Consumers also need to be made aware that they can make healthful choices in the supermarket by looking for foods they regularly consume that are fortified with ingredients such as pulses.

Among the other initiatives that will last well past 2016 are the creation of a pulse brand that can be used to label food packages that contain pulses as an ingredient. Those of you on Twitter may have seen Canada’s own Chef Michael Smith extolling the health benefits of pulses as well as their incredible performance as a versatile ingredient. Smith, and others like him, have taken responsibility to pass along the message of pulses as a healthful ingredient, an affordable protein, and a sustainable food to their legions of followers.

Pulse Canada drove many other notable tactics during 2016 IYP including:

Pulse Pledge Initiative – at www.pulsepledge.com consumers can find useful information and recipes and sign up to eat pulses once a week for 10 weeks. Over 56,000 consumers took the pledge in 2016.

Ag in the Classroom – an educational program including lessons and activities was developed and reached over 32,000 students.

Exhibit development – in partnership with the Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada food museum, an exhibit was created and traveled across Canada promoting pulses at events like the Calgary Stampede and the Royal Winter Fair.

Community Food Centres of Canada – cooking programs for use in community kitchens serving lower income Canadians were developed. The goal was to demonstrate hands-on how to create healthy meals on a budget using pulses.

“International Year of the Pulse was amazing,” says Goodwin. “It was a stepping stone in a long-term strategy to get the message about pulses out.”  Over time, as that happens, further benefits will trickle down to growers in the very concrete form of increased demand for more production.