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Important details in marketing Kamut

by Jochen Bettzieche (comments: 0)

Khorasan wheat: frequently marketed under the name “Kamut“

For a number of years Kamut has been a trend food. It's a grain that can be easily marketed because there's something mystical about it. What many people don't know is that the term Kamut applies only to Khorasan wheat grown on specific croplands. The word comes from ancient Egyptian and means “wheat”. Because it comes from a dead language, the American Quinn family was able to have it registered as a trademark. This means that anyone using the word Kamut must identify it as a registered trademark.

The Quinn family is determined to protect Khorasan wheat from genetic manipulation and to produce it in organic quality only. However, this can be only done via the registered trademark. Unlike “Kamut”, the term “Khorasan” cannot be protected – as in the case of dinkel and rye. Other breeders are free to develop Khorasan wheat, biologists can genetically modify it in laboratories and farmers can grow it without adhering to organic criteria. But if they do so, they are not permitted to call it “Kamut”.

Kamut - Khorasan-Wheat

Kamut. Photo © Katrin Muhl

The name Kamut is so popular among consumers, that big food corporations have offered to buy the brand. For the current owner, Kamut International, selling it would presumably be lucrative, but the private family business is not interested – “now and in the future”, explains the head of the firm Trevor Blyth: “We've never entered into price negotiations.”

An important part of the company business is supervising the quality of the grain, because Kamut International is the sole arbiter of what can be called Kamut. At the same time, the company makes sure that producers like Davert and Rapunzel print the little R in a circle ( ® ) behind the name on their packaging. “We also carry out audits of licensees to check that the brand name is correct and the trademark is being used,” says Blyth.

Licence fees for the name “Kamut”

Blyth is the nephew of the founder Bob Quinn, a farmer's son and biochemist, who, at the end of the 1970s, the beginning of the 1980s, recognised the potential of Khorasan wheat. Since the 1990s Kamut has been the brand with which the Quinn family and their companies, as we often see with brand names, receive revenue not only from sales but also from licence fees - in other words for using the word Kamut. It's not clear where in the value chain these fees are taken. “We don't have to pay a fee”, says Davert. It must therefore be somewhere upstream. According to Blyth, it's not much: “The aim of Kamut International is simply to get as much income as is necessary to finance activities like advertising, protection of the brand and research relating to this special grain.” He was unwilling, however, to say anything about the turnover of Kamut International.

 Kamut - Khorasan-Wheat - Davert

Davert does it the right way: an R in a circle after the word Kamut. Photo © Katrin Muhl

Kamut is grown mainly in the US state of Montana and the Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan and there's an exciting story behind. In 1949, the American airman Earl Dedman was stationed on an airforce base in Portugal. From a man about whom we know no details he got 36 seeds of grain that he sent to father, a farmer in Montana. The seeds were said to have come from a stone container in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Scientists doubt this to be true, but the legend persists nevertheless. Also because of the fact, that the farmers in Montana, who grew the grain, propagated and spread the seed, called it King Tut wheat for years. This is the reason why people like to refer to kamut as Egyptian wheat.

In reality, we are dealing with a North American product here. All the rest is down to clever marketing. Calling Kamut Egyptian is about the same as calling German wine Italian wine, just because the first grapevines were brought over the Alps by the Romans.

The demand for Kamut has been growing strongly during the last years, resulting in increasing prices. According cropland area is available or to expand their cultivation area in order to meet the demand for Kamut,” Blyth explains.

Experts: “Kamut is not necessarily more wholesome”

In addition to that, the company tried to open up new crop land. “It would also have been better to have cropland closer to the markets for the crops,” says Blyth, so much as Kamut from Europe for Europe, which also brings environmental benefits like shorter transport distances. So far, however, their efforts have not been successful. The quality has not met the standards and expectations of Kamut International. Another consideration is that concentration in one region means there is the risk of supply not keeping up with demand in extreme weather conditions. The worst case scenario would be a harvest failing totally. So, for the time being, things stay as they are. The company intends to get even more farmers in Montana and Canada to switch to organic cultivation and grow Kamut.

The German Association for Biology, Biosciences and Biomedicine is critical of the aggressive marketing of ancient varieties of grain like Khorasan wheat. “Older doesn't necessarily mean more wholesome,” spokesman Carsten Roller warns, and he adds that there's nothing special about where they came from, since all varieties of grain originated in the Near East or Middle East. What's more, sensitive people are more likely to have problems than with traditional types of grain. “It's possible that a variety containing a higher protein level also contains unknown allergens,” Roller maintains.


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