Life used to be so simple. For decades the toughest peanut butter decision was crunchy vs. creamy. In the last year, the peanut butter shelves have exploded with new choices.
The traditional four brands, in both creamy and crunchy, are Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan and Smuckers. In the last year, Jif introduced "Simply Jif" a new lower salt, lower sugar product and Skippy introduced "Roasted Honey Nut Skippy," a sweeter product using peanuts roasted in honey instead of the more customary oil. Hershey Foods, capitalizing on its well-known chocolate-covered peanut butter candy, brought out a new brand, Reese's crunchy and creamy peanut butters, in January.
So far, local grocery stores say, sales are strong and there are no clear cut losers or winners.
And that is music to the ears of peanut butter manufacturers.
"We hope that what will happen is that the new peanut butters will broaden the market and not cannibalize existing lines," says Mitchell Head, executive director of the Peanut Advisory Board, a trade association, based in Atlanta.
"Skippy's honey nut peanut butters have been a rousing success" says a spokesman for Giant Food Inc. He says creamy has a slight edge over chunky but says both are doing very well. "They are new and different and appeal to the taste buds, particularly kids," he says. Some of Skippy's older brands have suffered a little but so far there is no danger of any brand losing substantial market share.
Chuck Cross, store manager of Klein's Super Thrift in Aberdeen, says his customers are mostly buying tried-and-true favorites, Skippy, Jif and Peter Pan.
While there "has been some interest" in the new brands, he says they have not been around long enough to make a "judgment."
Mr. Cross says he has seen strong sales of the store's generic brands, primarily because recession-conscious buyers are seeking bargains.
There are no statistics yet on how the newcomers are doing, says Mr. Head.
Nationally, Jif is the top seller with 36 percent of the total peanut butter market, according to the Peanut Advisory Board. Skippy has 21 percent, Peter Pan has 15 percent and Smuckers has 5 percent. These January figures, the most recent available, include crunchy and creamy. The rest of the market is composed of generic and store brands and grind-your-own peanut butters.
Creamy peanut butter has been around for 102 years. In the 1940s, crunchy was added and sales of peanut butter grew steadily through the mid-'60s, according to Mr. Head. Sales remained flat as baby boomers got older but then, about five years ago sales began climbing upward, by about 3 to 5 percent a year, according to the Peanut Advisory Board.
Manufacturers, trying to capitalize on this growth, began developing new niche markets, says Mr. Head.
Peanut butter is a basic part of the American diet, he says. Nationwide, consumers bought $700 million worth of peanut butter last year. That averages out to more than 3 pounds of
peanut butter per person.
There's at least one jar of peanut butter in 85 percent of all homes and more than 2 jars in 42 percent of all homes. Couple that popularity with peanut butter's long shelf life and inexpensive production costs and it should be no surprise that manufacturers are racing each other to introduce new products, he says.
The two-jar household is being fueled out of curiosity, consumers want to try the new brands, says Mr. Head. Also, many households are divided on the creamy vs. crunchy controversy. Children almost always prefer creamy while adults are evenly split.
The battle for peanut butter supremacy will be fought through advertising and marketing, says Mr. Head. Peanut butters taste pretty much the same and most cost about the same as well (about $2.60 for 18 ounces).
National brands typically sell within 5 percent of each other. Generic and store brands sell for 10 to 15 percent less, he says.
Beyond bread: other ways to use that favorite spread
Here are a few of the most popular recipes from "The Official Peanut Butter Lovers' Centennial Cookbook" (Peanut Advisory Board, 1990).
Spicy peanut butter enhanced Chinese chicken
2 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
1 cucumber, pared, seeded, and sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, ground
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons peanuts, salted and chopped.
In medium bowl, stir together chicken, cucumber, scallion, ginger and garlic; mix well. In small bowl, stir together peanut butter, water, soy sauce, vinegar, oil, sugar and hot pepper sauce. Pour sauce over chicken; toss gently. Serve on watercress; garnish with chopped peanuts. Serve hot or cold.
The best peanut butter cookies
Makes 24 cookies
1/4 cup shortening, soft
1/4 cup butter, unsalted and softened
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup peanuts, unsalted and chopped
Combine shortening, butter, peanut butter, sugars and egg. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the batter with chopped peanuts and stir to combine. Chill batter. Shape into 1-inch balls and put on baking sheet. Flatten each ball with a fork, making a criss-cross pattern. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.