A cause of flatulence. A dull vegan staple. More punishment than pleasure. UK pulses have long suffered from an image problem. But it wasn’t always like that. Broad beans had been a staple in Britain for over 3,000 years and were even featured prominently in the earliest known English cookbook in the 14th century.
Fortunately, after centuries in the shadows, a renaissance is underway. The rise of flexitarian diets has reestablished the role of pulses as a protein alternative to meat and dairy, and pulse-based snacks like quinoa chips have become aisle staples.
Meanwhile, restaurants like Wahaca, one of the UK’s biggest Mexican chains, are turning to British fava beans instead of avocados in their guacamole because of their eco-friendly benefits.
Much of the change is due to Hodmedod’s, a small Suffolk company that paved the way for a domestic market for native beans and pulses.
Founded by Josiah Meldrum, Nick Saltmarsh and William Hudson in 2012 as they investigated the prospect of sustainable food towns in East Anglia, Hodmedod breathes new life into these cultures.
“Many brands have been forced to think very differently about their relationship to their primary production”
Its mission is multiple. Not content with just being a supplier, it’s also an agronomist, introducing new crops to British soils and helping farmers grow them successfully. It is also a “change facilitator”, as Meldrum puts it, towards a more equitable food system with less reliance on monocultural grains.
As an avowed “bean evangelist”, Meldrum is a gentle but passionate boaster of their virtues. He thinks deeply about the many issues facing our food system and yet even he cannot explain why customers have not shown the same interest in where beans and pulses come from as meat and vegetables.
“Certainly when we started, you would go to restaurants and people would ask where the meat came from, where the vegetables came from, how they were grown,” he says. “But they wouldn’t think of where the bread grain was grown. Or the rice. This carbohydrate element is completely neglected.
B Corp Benefits
Again, however, change may be happening. Hodmedod’s local traceability brand helped sales jump 2,000% overnight at the start of the pandemic.
Commercial interest is also on the rise. Meldrum attributes much of this to the B Corp process, “which has forced many brands to think very differently about their relationship with their primary production.”
“We get calls from people saying: our product contains chickpeas and we don’t even know where they come from. They didn’t realize that their manufacturer would simply fish a global commodity market to find the cheapest chickpeas.
Hodmedod’s very impact on mindsets is particularly surprising given that turnover remains just under £2m – not much bigger than a convenience store. Processors once mocked the trio for suggesting the beans could be retailed to the public. Today, Hodmedod is struggling to keep up with demand.
Lentils, chickpeas and saffron grown in Britain are now available thanks to pioneering agronomy at Hodmedod. Some, like quinoa, had been growing on UK farms since the 1980s but were used for bird feed. Others, like camelina, have been grown in kerosene trials to try to reduce emissions. Now they are sold as an ingredient for cooking.
Last name: Josiah Meldrum
Potted resume: A degree in international development. Worked for a regional NGO called East Anglia Food Link on sustainable food systems, some of which led to Hodmedod.
Favorite pulse: Pug peas, which are delicious, beautiful and have a rich cultural history, should be near the top.
Reading: Rebugging the Planet by Vicki Hird.
Bringing a change to the food system? Increased diversity in farms and plates. Reduce our dependence on corn, rice and wheat for over 50% of our calories.
A person in the food you admire? The late Professor Martin Wolfe was ahead of his time when it came to diversity on farms
Hodmedod’s does not farm itself, but works with around 25 farmers across the UK to sell their produce through hospitality, wholesale and online. Meldrum is well aware that this puts them in the realm of “middlemen – so often vilified as the person who skims off a percentage and doesn’t contribute much to the food system”.
Where Hodmedod is different, he explains, is that he uses his position to be a positive broker for change, acting as a channel of communication between farmers and customers, and helping to enable a healthy food system. more cooperative, sustainable and equitable.
Hodmedod’s mission to be a “change facilitator” means it has a different approach than leading mults and manufacturers, adds Meldrum. “Their relationship with primary production is very extractive. They often tell farmers what the price is, when they want it, what the specifications are. And farmers often agree because it’s the only customer they have. »
These types of conversations often act as change inhibitors. Lentils grown in Britain, for example, have long been hampered by the food industry’s emphasis on making all UK-grown crops as cheap as Canadian imports, Meldrum says.
So instead of immediately focusing on issues such as how quickly volumes can increase to maximize profits, Hodmedod’s works with farmers to first determine if and how they could grow lentils, before exploring scale and profitability issues.
The approach means higher prices. A 500g bag of Hodmedod chickpeas, for example, costs £3.79, compared to £1.20 for Waitrose’s own brand. But as Meldrum points out, “If we seem too specialized and expensive, then why? Because we pay a fair price.
Their collaborative approach commands attention. Meldrum receives two or three calls a week from farmers asking to supply them, while the big supermarkets are also knocking on the door.
Meldrum is cautious, acknowledging that such a rapprochement would be a “matching of models”. But he also acknowledges that fundamental change is nearly impossible without supermarkets on board. “The question for us is whether we are the company to come in and try to make that change.”