Heirloom Beans Become Coveted Pantry Staple as Coronavirus Spreads
Napa-based Rancho Gordo has seen a major uptick in bean sales as its customers prepare for a quarantine
Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans have been on the “It List” of food connoisseurs for years. Now they’ve also become one of their top picks for quarantine-proof food items, as Americans scramble to prepare themselves for the growing COVID-19 crisis.
The Napa-based company has seen a huge uptick in orders over the past few weeks, says owner Steve Sando. “I thought it was my brilliant marketing, but it’s become clear that it’s part of people’s pantry stock-up.”
Orders have skyrocketed from an average of 200-250 orders per day to about 1,000 orders. Many of them are regulars, who want to ensure that they have a plentiful supply of their favorite varieties.
“Bean freaks are kind of hoarders anyway,” laughs Sando. “For heirloom bean people there’s a satisfaction in seeing the pantry full of opporunity and the idea that they might have to dig into their stash is making them crazy.”
The demand has caused a bit of a bean backlog, says Sando. “We are overwhelmed with orders.” What is typically a one day turnaround has become a three to four day delay in shipping out orders. “People are panicking.”
The company has been selling lesser-known heirloom beans since the early 2000s, when Sando turned his passion for legumes into a small business. Now they’re part of the Bay Area culinary canon (chef Thomas Keller famously uses the beans at the three-Michelin-starred French Laundry), with fans all across the United States. Beyond beans, Rancho Gordo also sells dried chiles, hot sauce, rice, herbs, seeds, and other “New World” products. The company’s “Bean Club,” which offers some of its harder-to-find varieties in quarterly shipments, has a waitlist in the thousands, and has become something of a status symbol among those in the know.
Despite the volume of orders, Sando and his team are working through their orders and say they have plenty of beans on hand, at least until next September’s harvest.
The best seller? Royal Coronas, large, thick-skinned runner beans from Europe that are similar to gigandes. They’ve always been the number one bean at Rancho Gordo, says Sando. Their continued popularity, despite their name, gives them a leg up on Corona beer, which has allegedly seen sales drop in recent weeks as “corona” has become a taboo association. “The beer wasn’t selling, but the beans are doing just fine,” says Sando. “Maybe the average bean eater is smarter than the average beer drinker?”
Even if quarantine isn’t ultimately mandated or never happens, a stockpile of beans is still a positive. But don’t let those beans sit idle for too long—part of Rancho Gordo’s charm is the freshness of its products. (For ideas on how to use those beans, check out 30 of Sunset‘s best bean recipes to get started.) Sando says you have a generous two-year window in which they’ll be at peak flavor. They’ll technically last for many years after that but will require longer cooking times.