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Kidney beans ship-bound for Europe from Port of Duluth-Superior make history

About 80% of the dark red kidney beans that were shipped from the Port of Duluth-Superior were grown by farmers in Minnesota, and the remainder by Wisconsin farmers, said Charles Wachsmuth, Chippewa Valley Bean sales and marketing vice president.

A container is loaded onto a ship.
Chippewa Valley Bean, in Menominee, Wisconsin, made history in spring 2022 when it shipped kidney beans to Europe out of the Port of Duluth-Superior.
Contributed / Chippewa Valley Bean
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MENOMINEE, Wis. — Chippewa Valley Bean Co., through ingenuity, perseverance and assistance from land and sea shipping companies, made history when it shipped kidney beans from its plant in Menominee to Europe via the Port of Duluth-Superior.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority announced in October 2021 that it had gained approval to begin maritime container handling operations at the Clare Public Marine Terminal, which increased the waterborne shipping capabilities of its land-based intermodal business, said a news release from the Duluth Seaway Port Authority.

Chippewa Valley Bean Co., Jeff Foster Trucking, Nexyst 360 and the Spliethoff Group coordinated the shipping.

Duluth Cargo Connect, a partnership between the Port Authority and its operating agent, initiated the activity when it loaded its first containerized cargoes for 2022 for export aboard the Nunalik, a Spliethoff-chartered vessel.

The kidney beans left the Port of Duluth-Superior on the night of May 28, 2022, bound for the Port of Valleyfield, southwest of Montreal. From there, most of the beans were shipped to the Port of Palermo, Italy, and the remainder to the Port of Antwerp, Belgium.

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About 80% of the dark red kidney beans were grown by farmers in Minnesota, and the remainder by Wisconsin farmers, said Charles Wachsmuth, Chippewa Valley Bean sales and marketing vice president.

The shipment was made up of about 92,000 hundredweight of pinto beans in bulk containers, which were loaded onto Nunalik , in 200 20-foot containers, the Duluth Seaway Port Authority said.

“We operate an excellent multi-modal transport facility at the Clare Terminal, but to develop this maritime container business, it takes more than that,” Jonathan Lamb, Duluth Cargo Connect president, said in a prepared statement. “It takes the steamship line operators, customers, freight forwarders, truckers and third-party logistics providers. It takes everybody, all of them coming together to make a deal like this work, and we’re very appreciative of everyone who helped make it happen.”

Shipping the kidney beans out of the Port of Duluth was a project that Chippewa Valley had been working on for months with Nexyst 360, a company headquartered in Rice, Minnesota, which assembles sustainable supply chain solutions.

“Our largest customers in Europe are the Italians. They don’t eat a lot of kidney beans, but they send them throughout the world,” Wachsmuth said.

“All these beans will be canned and going to various markets,” Wachsmuth said. The European companies, similar to U.S. companies, are fresh vegetables canners, and when those are not in season, they can edible beans so they can utilize their equipment year round.

Chippewa Valley Bean sign
Chippewa Valley Bean is in Menoninee, Wisconsin.
Contributed / Chippewa Valley Bean

Chippewa Valley Bean had leased sealed containers called the Nitrogen-layered NexBox, containers from Nexyst 360 and was impressed by the company’s innovative solutions, Wachsmuth said.

“They helped us arrange the shipping with the Dutch shipping company and points east,” Wachsmuth said. ”We had all these feelers out and we were looking for different ways to do it, and it kind of culminated with the shipment.”

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Previously, Chippewa Valley Bean had to obtain containers from Minneapolis, load them with kidney beans, and then send them, by rail to Montreal, and, finally on, to Europe.

Chippewa Valley Bean also was searching for a more efficient way to ship its kidney beans because it had been previously thwarted by shipping problems including strikes at the Port of Montreal and supply chain issues.

“It’s been a cascading series of problems,” Wachsmuth said. “We had a lot of these containers that were trying to make it to Europe and were stymied along the way.”

Chippewa Valley Bean is working on a way to regularly ship the company’s kidney beans from the Port of Duluth-Superior to Europe and return to the U.S. ports with other products, both food and non-food.

“I think for the longest time we’ve been focused on a couple of routes, especially for the navy beans and kidney beans going to Europe.

“We would like to find enough interested parties that want to do container movement,” Wachsmuth said. “The more people moving cargo out of the Great Lakes, the better service, the better prices we’re going to get.”

Chippewa Valley Bean is in discussions with a steamship line at the Port of Antwerp and other European steamships about the potential for shipping to the Port of Duluth-Superior, which he believes would ease the supply chain backlog and give Chippewa Valley Bean more shipping options.

“If it relieves pressure on the system it may help everything work more smoothly,” Wachsmuth said. “It allows us not to put all of our eggs in one basket.”

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The Port Authority also sees the shipment as a promising expansion for Head-of-the-Lakes shipping.

A crane unloads a box from a ship.
A container of Chippewa Valley kidney beans is unloaded from a ship.
Contributed / Chippewa Valley Bean

“Greater cargo diversity and more multi-modal shipping options make our port and our region more vibrant,” Deb DeLuca, executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, said in a prepared statement. “It’s a team effort to create these kinds of solutions for helping regional producers and manufacturers compete in the global marketplace, and we’re excited to see those efforts coming to fruition.”

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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