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Keeping Our Finger on the Pulse: The Phenomenal Success of the International Year of Pulses

By Alexandra Locke
A recent analysis of research has revealed that 2 out of 3 Australians simply don’t think to include pulses and legumes in their diet¹ and with 2016 being deemed the peak of the fashionable paddock to plate movement – a trend which prioritises local ingredients and whole foods – it seemed only fitting that the United Nations named 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP): a year dedicated to raising public awareness of the humble pulse.
One key objective of IYP was to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of a sustainable agricultural system, moving towards global food security and nutrition – a message which has been supported by both the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) and Pulse Australia, playing key roles in the promotion of pulses to both industry and consumer audiences. As a result of these communications, pulses are now having their moment in the limelight with many celebrity chefs and foodie influencers adopting their use as a staple ingredient in everyday and high end cuisine.
Moving into 2017, the true impact of IYP is just being revealed, showing that the influence has been felt on a global scale. It’s clear that the hard work that went into planning this momentous year has been worthwhile, raising awareness of pulses and their benefits for both health and environment. 2016 saw a 51% increase in media mentions of pulses in Australia in comparison to 2015², which has helped communicate these messages to a global audience of over 4 billion – a significant achievement given the initial aim was to reach 30-40 million people.
On the back of a record breaking crop in 2016, the raised awareness of pulses presents opportunities to add wider value to Australian pulse crops. Processors and retailers have seen the benefit too, specifically via an increase in canned pulse sales with total pulses seeing positive growth in both value and volume over the last 12 months in Australia, up 0.3% to a total value of $58.3 million and 7.9% to a total of 20 million kg respectively².
A consistent problem that those involved in the pulse industry consistently face, whether grower, manufacturer or retailer and which IYP succeeded in addressing, is public perception that pulses can be difficult to prepare and are limited in both flavour and usability. Pulse advocate and celebrity chef Simon Bryant used IYP’s momentum to help change this consumer perception, with key activities throughout the year including recipe development, alongside demonstrations to help communicate the versatility of pulses.
Alongside growing consumer awareness, manufacturers are now taking advantage of this momentum by looking for increasingly innovative ways to include legumes into their products; including a line of mung bean spreads as a low allergen alternative to nut butters and a range of roasted chickpeas and fava beans as an alternative to traditional snack products. And many other producers have incorporated pulses into snack bars, crackers and energy bites amongst others – clearly opportunities abound for those willing to think outside the box.
Whilst IYP is now officially over, foundations have been set in place to ensure this momentum is continued – Global Pulse Day, an annual celebration on January 18thwill help to maintain public awareness over 2017 and beyond, alongside the continued efforts of all those invested in IYP. The results of 2016 have demonstrated the success that an initiative such as this can have on improving health, sustainability and food diversity on a global scale and the future looks bright to ensure that pulses become an integral and sustainable part of our food chain.
To access a whole host of resources on pulses, including teaching aids, fact sheets and more, visit the Pulses website here. For more recipes and information on the nutritional benefits of pulses visit GLNC’s website here.

References

1. 2014. GLNC Consumption & Attitudes Study. Unpublished.
2. 2017: 2016 International Year of Pulses: Australian Outcomes Report. Unpublished.

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