Spilling the Beans

That #10 can of beans that sits in your dry storage area is a reliable standby.

Depending on what variety is packed inside, this versatile staple can be a zesty side, the starting point for a Latin or Mediterranean dish or the base for a healthy vegetarian item.

Convenience is the big reason most operators choose canned beans. “It’s very labor intensive to cook dry beans from scratch,” says Tom Abel, director of foodservice for Bush Brothers, a leading packer. “Plus, the industry has developed a three-year shelf life, which is hard to beat.” Bush’s baked beans are the top seller in the company’s 45 item canned bean line. The classic Bean Pot baked beans are prepared according to a secret family recipe, which combines navy beans, bacon and brown sugar with selected spices; a vegetarian version is also available. “Many foodservice customers use the product as a base and doctor it up with other ingredients to make it their own,” Abel adds. In addition, Bush Brothers’ R&D department partners with restaurants to develop menu applications for its baked beans and other types; pintos, garbanzos and black beans are also good sellers.

Allens, another major supplier of canned beans, is a well-known source for Southern regional legumes, such as blackeye peas, crowder peas and butter beans. Chet Holden, the company’s menu development consultant, works closely with operators to create items that fit their concept and the trends. “Legumes are eaten in almost every part of the world—Asia, Mexico, Southern France, Italy, Africa and the Middle East,” he says. “Right now, Peruvian, Chilean, regional Mexican and North African flavors are influencing menus; beans belong because they are indigenous to those cuisines.

To develop a bean application, Holden dissects a concept’s menu for underutilized ingredients that can be incorporated. He also looks at the operation’s work stations to see which are busiest. Canned beans lend themselves to almost any cooking method. “The key is to take one of our bean products and put a signature on it,” he says. With its recent purchase of Birds Eye, Allens has branched out into frozen beans. 

Another company that just expanded its line of beans is Truitt Bros. out of Salem, Oregon. This family-owned business contracts with a farmer in Eastern Washington who grows pintos, garbanzos, kidney and black beans. “The beans have an unusual pedigree—they’re raised with great attention to sustainability,” says co-owner Peter Truitt. These same principles are adhered to in the canning process. The raw material comes in dried and the beans are simply hydrated and canned. “We use no preservatives, additives or synthetics in processing, so the canning liquid looks a little cloudier and the beans are a little softer,” he explains.

On the plate

At Bandana’s Bar-B-Q, the St. Louis, Missouri-based chain, platters of smoked pork, beef, ribs and chicken all include two sides. Among the seven options are Bar-B-Q beans.

“We combine two brands of baked beans—Allens and B&M—to come up with a signature side dish,” says CEO Rick White. “The beans are slightly different colors and the combination creates a unique look.” Bandana’s also stirs some of its own barbecue sauce, brown sugar and pieces of cooked meat into the pot for further customization.

Using canned beans makes the recipe easy to replicate at all 23 locations, White says. “The appearance and taste of the products is always consistent.” Those who can’t get enough of Bandana’s Bar-B-Q beans can order an extra helping—it’s $1.79 for a generous 5-ounce portion. 

Bean counting

Restaurant purchasers can choose from among these varieties of canned beans:

  • Baked beans
  • Black beans
  • Blackeye peas
  • Butter beans
  • Cannellini beans
  • Chili beans
  • Crowder peas
  • Field peas and snaps
  • Garbanzos
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Northern beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Purple hull peas
  • Red beans
  • Refried beans
  • Pork and beans

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