Peanut butter is back.

Following a downturn in sales of more than 19 percent in January, compared to year earlier sales volume, February numbers show the beginning of a recovery, a decline of only .84 percent, according to Marie Fenn, president and managing director, National Peanut Board in Atlanta.

“The data for March is even more encouraging,” Fenn says. “In March 2009, there was an increase in volume sales of 5.6 percent over March 2008.”

She says Information Resources, Inc. Retail Sales Scan Data (IRI) correlates with the National Peanut Board’s independent research findings. “The research is following consumer attitudes and behavior on the issue,” she says. “The wave conducted in March indicates that over half of the consumers who are avoiding peanut products felt they could start to re-engage over the next couple of months (March through May).

“The research also shows that strong, positive messages are at the core of market recovery. The National Peanut board has an aggressive education and consumer outreach market recovery program in place that includes national advertising, media relations and outreach events. Our consumer outreach is communicating positive messages on every front, including mainstream media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York times, ABC Radio networks, Fox News and other TV networks.”

She said trade publications like Progressive Grocer and Nation’s Restaurant News are also media targets, along with blogs, websites and food and lifestyle sections of daily and weekly publications.

Fenn said peanut butter was never part of the salmonella related recall that began in January but confusion “among consumers about what peanut products are safe to eat,” and resulting media coverage tarred peanut butter with the same wide brush that affected the small amount of tainted peanuts that were released into the market.

“The National Peanut board will continue reaching out to consumers, all of our partners and within our industry as we work together to restore confidence and continue giving Americans permission to enjoy the numerous benefits of a food we know many people enjoy,” Fenn says.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com