Today I went on my usual replenishing-the-cupboard trek: Trader Joe’s for the things I can’t get at Whole Foods, then on to Whole Foods for the things I can’t get at HEB, etc, etc, etc. On my list to replenish (because I’m down to 1.5 lbs in inventory) was Trader Joe’s Just Cashew Meal. I love cashew meal. It tastes sweet and flavorful. It’s full of healthy oil and nutrients. And at Trader Joe’s, it’s a veritable steal (or at least it was . . . . ) at $4.99 per pound. On the shelf where the tag read Cashew Meal were packages of gluten-free flour. The packages of almond meal were right next to that spot, right where it was supposed to be, in plentiful number. No cashew meal, though. I looked behind the gluten-free baking mix. No straggler packages of cashew meal. Thinking I might find it in another spot in the store, I strolled over to the shelves that hold all the packages of dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and what have you. No cashew meal. I was dismayed, but continued my shopping. As the cashier rang up my purchases, I asked him about the cashew meal. I could not believe my ears, nor contain my emotion, when he explained to me that Trader Joe’s has discontinued carrying cashew meal. While I cried out my fervent devotion to the product, he further explained that the cashew meal didn’t sell well and the shelf space was needed for products that would sell better. Having trouble processing the information that few people desire the product, for just about every cooking / baking resource I read includes recipes in which cashew flour is used, I asked whether it is discontinued at this one particular Trader Joe’s, or at all Trader Joe’s location. He affirmed my worst fear. Cashew meal has been discontinued at all Trader Joe’s, everywhere.
I explained to him that I regularly purchase cashew meal, so I found it difficult to believe it’s that little in demand. He responded to me that I and about two other people regularly purchase it. He then told me that one woman who regularly purchases the cashew meal decided to buy cashews and make the meal herself, but the store has been unable to get whole cashews for over a month. Fearful of what the paucity of cashews portends (A world shortage? A temporary retail shortage? An isolated blip in the Trader Joe’s supply chain?), I left the store, swept through Whole Foods at a pace unusual for me, and hurried home to check on the status of cashew supplies in the United States. I actually started reading commodity futures and other agricultural sources. While I was looking into the cashew problem, I decided to look at the prospect of almond crops (which I already know are threatened by the extended drought in CA), as well as that of pistachio crops. Having to eat gluten-free, and now wanting to eat as few gluten-free grains as possible, I have depended largely upon these nut flours for baking.
What I found out about almonds and pistachio crops and the prospect of the supply this next year is not surprising. California is the largest world supplier of almonds, and it’s the second largest world supplier of pistachios. This year’s almond crop, predicted in the summer of 2014 to be unaffected by the drought and actually larger than last years, turned out to be quite a bit smaller than last year’s crop. The ground water that almond farmers tapped into for watering their crops turned out to be poor quality water, with higher amounts of certain chemicals or elements that led to smaller crop than expected. As a result, we can continue to see the already high price of almonds, and thus almond flour, rise.
The pistachio crop is suffering from the drought as well, despite the pistachio tree’s heartier nature. Politics also affects the price we pay for pistachios in the United States: Iran is the world’s largest producer of pistachios, but the embargo we have on trade with Iran means that we have little choice but to pay the rising cost of pistachios supplied by California. Of course, I’m giving only a brief description of the problem facing people who regularly consume almonds and pistachios as part of their regular diets, and must grow accustomed to the high price of grain-free eating.
Concerning cashews, the supply is mostly adequate, but for the early monsoons interfering with this year’s cashew crops in India, the world’s second top supplier (after the Ivory Coast, which is the world’s largest exporter of cashews) have caused the prices of cashews to rise. In addition to the shortage of supply from India, increased world demand – especially in India – for cashews affects the nut’s price. After reading about the cashew situation, I’m thinking that perhaps the higher cost, rather than lack of demand cited by the cashier who rang up my groceries today, may be the reason behind Trader Joe’s decision to discontinue carrying the unbelievably low-priced cashew meal. I can understand the economics of the situation; Trader Joe’s is a grocery store built upon the promise of supplying quality food products at an affordable price. I just hope that if the situation is otherwise, someone at Trader Joe’s who reads my email inquiry about the matter (well, yes, I did email the company about the cashew meal when I arrived home from my grocery shopping), see that demand for the product does indeed exist, and add it back to the store’s inventory.
A post about the price and supply of nut flours, inspired by the decision of a grocery store chain to discontinue carrying cashew meal, may seem obsessive . . . . but for those of us who depend upon alternative flours / meals in our diets, predictions of shortages and rising prices helps us to plan our diets accordingly. We may have to look more toward psuedo-grains such as buckwheat or kaniwa to replace increasingly expensive nut flours.