In Civil Eats: The Peanut Industry Has a Monopoly Problem

Date: 29 Jan 2021 | posted in: Retail | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Monopoly power in the peanut industry has pushed thousands of small farmers to the brink of bankruptcy. It has also made peanuts more expensive to taxpayers than any other crop in the country.

In Civil Eats, ILSR’s Ron Knox tells the monopoly story of America’s favorite snack.

“Between picky kids stuck at home demanding PB&Js and their parents’ unquenchable snack habits, peanuts are having a moment. People’s craving for peanuts and their various byproducts—butters, candies, ice creams, and so on—have pushed consumption and sales to record highs.

And it’s not just a pandemic-fueled phenomenon. U.S. peanut consumption has grown just about every year for the past two decades, from around 1.5 billion pounds in 1999 to more than 2.3 billion pounds in 2018. Even the low-fat craze and the rise of peanut allergies couldn’t curb its rise. Demand for peanuts outside of the U.S. has grown even faster. Peanut butter, it seems, is a hit everywhere.

But this rising demand hasn’t trickled down to the thousands of small family farmers in the peanut belt—the vast swath of farmland stretching from the hills of Virginia through Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and beyond. Prices for raw peanuts have remained nearly flat year over year. And even with increasing consumption, peanut prices have sometimes fallen.

This may sound like a good thing for consumers, but it’s not that simple. You see, we’re also spending millions to prop up the industry with our tax dollars.

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Photo Credit: CC-licensed by the Georgia Peanut Commission

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Ron Knox

Senior Researcher

Ron Knox is the senior researcher and writer for the Independent Business Initiative. He has studied and written about antitrust and monopoly power for more than a decade. Before joining ILSR, he worked in various senior editorial roles at Global Competition Review, and his antimonopoly writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Slate, The American Prospect and elsewhere. He is based in Kansas City.