CANTON, Ga. – What do the large cities of Boston, Nashville and Columbus, Ohio have in common with New Bethlehem?
Peanut butter, of course.
New Bethlehem was listed along side those three cities, as well as Dothan, Alabama, last week as the Southern Peanut Growers released its inaugural list of the “Five Best Cities for Peanut Butter Lovers.”
With November recognized as National Peanut Butter Lovers Month, the Southern Peanut Growers (SPG) — the farmers who grow peanuts for peanut butter — evaluated such criteria as peanut butter sales data, peanut butter-centric celebrations and stand-out menu items at local restaurants.
“Peanut butter lovers will be excited to learn which great cities ranked and to discover the unique PB gems cherished by locals. We think the list might even inspire a few road trips,” said Leslie Wagner, SPG’s executive director.
A press release issued by SPG noted that: “It may be small, but New Bethlehem is a destination for peanut butter lovers. The small borough is home to a J.M. Smucker’s plant, which makes a variety of peanut butter products, and visitors can even catch the wafting aroma of peanuts roasting. The whole community gathers annually for the Peanut Butter Festival in September. Hometown candy maker Char-Val Candies has many perennial PB favorites as well as a festival special peanut-shaped candy.”
The group will highlight each of the winners thought the month, with New Bethlehem being featured on the SPG’s social channels Nov. 27-29.
Local officials were excited about the announcement, saying that it put New Bethlehem, it’s peanut butter factory and its Peanut Butter Festival on the map.
“Our community is blessed to have this recognition,” said Gordon Barrows, president of the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce which holds the Peanut Butter Festival each year. “Our community should be proud of Char-Val Candies, J.M. Suckers and all our local business sponsors. The chamber and I are humbled that our community was nationally recognized — we did this together.”
Barrows said that the 2017 festival was the turning point in the event’s history, and now that it is nationally recognized, it will likely draw even more people into the Redbank Valley every September.
“Our past leaders and volunteers have brought the New Bethlehem area and the Redbank Valley community this great honor,” he said. “The future looks bright for the New Bethlehem area and Redbank Valley community.”
New Bethlehem Borough Council president Sandy Mateer said New Bethlehem is grateful to have the J.M. Suckers peanut butter plant in the community, which has a long history with peanut butter.
“The peanut butter plant holds a place in our hearts that helps make New Bethlehem a special place,” she said. “As seventh grade students wrote in their 2013 six-word memoirs about why they loved New Bethlehem, it’s ‘the best smelling town in Pennsylvania,’ ‘Peanut butter fills the air with joy,’ and ‘Love sweet smell of peanut butter’ among other honorable mentions. The roasting peanuts always make me hungry for peanut butter cookies.”
Mateer said the town’s involvement with peanut butter dates back to the early 1940s. After the brewery for which the building had been built had closed and while the Otto milk receiving plant was still operating, Harry B. DeViney of Knox began to manufacture, pack and distribute Kitchen King peanut butter there, she said.
“The small plant succeeded due to the hard work and dedication of its workers and plant manager John Calhoun who acquired an amazing knowledge of the peanut butter manufacturing industry,” she said. “In the 1940s, New Bethlehem sent a delegation of local businessmen to Washington, D.C. to successfully help the plant obtain a contract with the U.S. Government to provide peanut butter to the troops. Mr. Calhoun acquired a controlling interest in the DeViney firm and the plant prospered and expanded.”
J.M. Smucker acquired the H.B. DeViney company and surrounding tracts of land on Oct. 1, 1965, and it has been an important part of the community since then, Mateer continued.
“Borough Council has a good relationship with the plant and has tried to accommodate the plant’s needs while balancing the needs of our residents, including vacating streets for parking, amending zoning requirements to allow the lab’s construction and most recently adding signage and working with Google maps to direct trucks to the plant,” Mateer said. “The Redbank Valley Trail also has a good relationship with the plant in coordinating equipment and maintenance needs and offering close by recreational opportunities for its employees. In the next year or so, we hope to place an historic marker along the trail to reflect the building’s history and importance.”
Mateer noted that after the devastating July 19, 1996, flood hit the community, it was the plant’s then-manager, Julia Sabin, who suggested a festival to rally spirits and the first Peanut Butter Festival was held that September.
“The chocolate and honey with peanut butter, as well as the other delicious peanut butter products that the plant provides draws people locally and from as far away as Texas for the festival which continues to grow in popularity thanks to dedicated volunteers and J.M. Smuckers’ support,” she said. “I hope that the recognition as a top peanut butter lovers city and the growth in popularity of the Redbank Valley Trail may help bring more tourism and economic development to the New Bethlehem area, especially for next year’s festival.
“We hope to remain the best smelling town in PA and perhaps the country for a long time.”
In addition to New Bethlehem’s honor, Boston, Mass. was recognized as one of the top cities in the nation for peanut butter sales per household, as well as the locally produced Teddie Peanut Butter brand. Columbus, Ohio was included on the list as a top ranked city for peanut butter sales, and the local Krema Nut Company which has been making peanut butter since 1898. Nashville, Tenn. was recognized for its culinary scene, with many trendy restaurants using peanut butter in unusual ways. And Dothan, Ala. was included since nearly half of the U.S. peanut crop is grown, and much of it processed, within a 100-mile radius of that town, making it “The Peanut Capital of the World.” Dothan also holds a 10-day National Peanut Festival each November.
Los Angeles, Calif. also received an honorable mention for restaurants that have reimagined peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The Southern Peanut Growers is a non-profit trade association representing peanut farmers in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. The organization educates American consumers about the U.S. peanut industry and its products. For more, visit www.peanutbutterlovers.com.