The last few weeks, I’ve been in meetings with multinational companies who are now responding to the changing needs of American families. They recognize that demand for organic is no longer a fad or a trend and that consumers want transparency and to know what is in their food.
Organic is not a trend, because cancer, food allergies, diabetes, autism and Alzheimer’s aren’t trends. Inside all of these multinational companies are people who have family members and loved ones who are struggling with health issues. They know that the statistics are real.
So the personal is becoming the professional which is becoming political, and as these brands realize that less than 1% of our farmland in the U.S. is certified organic.
But the politics around food aren’t divided along traditional lines. Cancer doesn’t care if we are Republican or Democrat, autism, diabetes and Alzheimer’s don’t either. Health conditions are impacting all of our families, regardless of what side of the aisle we are on. And the line that has divided many companies between conventional and organic is blurring, thank goodness.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable examples of this is what Kashi is doing. They were acquired by Kellogg’s several years ago and largely left alone out in California, where they drove a revenue increase of 42% to $600 million in sales. Disaster only struck Kashi when Kellogg’s tried to re-engineer Kashi’s DNA, relocating the company’s headquarters to Michigan, changing the decision-making process and more. Sales tanked, morale plummeted, and the expression “to get Kashi’d” became something that no company wanted to experience in the acquisition process.
But inside of Kashi was a woman who stayed the course. She arrived in 2002, when the brand was still true to form, and she held onto that DNA despite the efforts to change it. As Kellogg’s realized their mistakes, they sent Kashi back to California.
A few years ago, under the leadership of this woman, the Kashi team contacted me after I’d been making a lot of noise about the fact that so many households are now buying organic, and that in spite of that, less than 1% of all U.S. farm acreage is organic. Those numbers don’t add up for any CEO responding to consumer demand, so the quick solution many companies turned to was importing organic ingredients. This hit me as a lost opportunity for American farmers. Why not grow it here?
So rather than wait for the government or the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (which was fighting its own consumers in the GMO labeling debate) to do it, Kashi implemented a program to grow more organic in the U.S., to support American farmers in that transition rather than import it.
I’ve been asking the Kashi team for an update for the last few months, as I adore market-led solutions and specifically the fact that theirs enlisted the consumer. Well, the update finally arrived. This hit my inbox this morning:
Kashi unveiled that with the support of consumers, it will source Certified Transitional ingredients from more than 4,200 acres of U.S. farmland – a 400% increase since the Certified Transitional program started in 2016. Participating farmers have received more than $1 million to support their transition from conventional to organic.
“We’re proud to support thousands of acres of U.S. farmland transitioning to organic through the Certified Transitional program since its inception in 2016,” said Nicole Nestojko, Kashi Sr. Director Supply Chain & Sustainability. “When people enjoy a bowl of our new Cinnamon French Toast cereal – or any Certified Transitional product – they are helping increase the amount of organic farmland in the U.S., one box at a time.”
Growing the Organic Market
Despite double-digit growth in consumer demand for organic foods each year since the 1990s, organic acreage has not kept up. According to the USDA, less than one percent of U.S. farmland is certified organic. While farmers increasingly recognize the benefits of certification, converting fields from conventional farming methods to organic takes at least three years and is no small feat. During the three-year transition, farmers use organic practices requiring increased investment but aren’t paid organic prices.
Inspired to help farmers meet rising demand for organics, Kashi partnered with leading organic certifier Quality Assurance International (QAI) in 2016 to create Certified Transitional, a protocol that creates a new way for farmers to command slightly higher prices for their crops in transition during the three-year period – giving them the financial assurance they need to make the switch from conventional to organic. QAI led the development of the label, with support from agricultural suppliers, a global environmental NGO, organic experts, farmers, retailers, distributors and food brands.
QAI owns and manages the Certified Transitional protocol, which is available for any crop and brand that sources agricultural ingredients, including food and beverage.
Certified Transitional Farmers Received $1M in Premiums Made Possible by Kashi
Through the program, Certified Transitional farmers have received more than $1 million in premiums to support their transition to organic since 2016. A total of 15 farmers have supplied Certified Transitional ingredients from farmland in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
By purchasing Certified Transitional products such as Cinnamon French Toast cereal, Chewy Nut Butter Bars and Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits, consumers are voting with their dollars to help support farmers transitioning their land to organic.
“I like to consider myself a ‘conductor in an ecological orchestra’ because it’s important to me to ensure that all unique parts of the farm are working together in harmony,” said Eric Thalken, president at Burkey LLC, who supplied corn for the new Cinnamon French Toast Cereal. “That’s why I’m transitioning to organic – to ensure I conduct my farm in the most sustainable tune.”
These are the types of solutions that we can bring to the marketplace in real time, without waiting on the government. They are driving changes for our farmers, creating economic opportunities and jobs, which is a win win for the farm economy and U.S. economy. I sincerely hope that other companies will follow.
The picture above is from LivingMaxwell.com and taken at Expo West 2017. We are looking forward to seeing more solutions from companies on the trade show floor in a few weeks.