Proving that foods produced using regenerative agriculture are more nutrient-dense will drive wide-scale adoption of regenerative farming methods. This was the key message of a panel session, “Nutrient Density: The Consumer Case for Regenerative Agriculture,” at Natural Products Expo West in March.
Panelists at the session included Tina Owens, senior fellow of regenerative agriculture at the Soil & Climate Alliance , Brandon Casteel, vice president of channel & retail partnerships at SPINS , Paul Lightfoot, general manager of Patagonia Provisions , Gina Asoudegan, vice president, mission and regenerative agriculture at Applegate Farms . Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project moderated the panel.
“It’s up to us as mission brands to lead this movement”
Asoudegan described her company’s Do Good Dog, a hotdog made with beef raised on regenerative U.S. grasslands and verified Land to Market , a regenerative ag certification program.
“It’s up to us as mission brands to lead this movement. Nutrient density is the lever we need to shift this to regenerative agriculture,” she said. “People have an intuitive understanding that organic is better, and the same is true for regenerative.”
Lightfoot agreed, saying: “Nutrient density is the key to scaling regenerative. Food is the most important lever to make things better.”
He said the key to regenerative agriculture becoming a trend is that consumers recognize that regeneratively produced foods are better for their health.
Casteel said sales of Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) products have increased 12% in the past year.
“Early indications are awesome. Consumers are responding very positively to regenerative organic products. They are voting with their wallets,” he said.
“Massive paradigm shift” in understanding of nutrient density
Owens said that food companies are committing billions of dollars to regenerative agriculture commitments. She has compiled a list showing that 58 of the world’s leading 100 food companies have either made regenerative agriculture commitments or have publicly stated regenerative ag pilots or intentions.
Owens emphasized the importance of soil health and its connection to human health. “We are soil, what we eat is from the soil. The soil microbiome is our microbiome. Nutrient lacking soil leads to nutrient lacking humans,” she said.
Owens said the nutrition facts side panel on foods covers only a tiny fraction of food nutrients. “There are 26,000 biochemicals in food, and the USDA tracks 150. We have a 1930s understanding (about food).”
She predicts that there will be a “massive paradigm shift” in the understanding of nutrient density.
“Prepare to have your understanding of nutrition revolutionized,” she said.
She also said that food companies will be held accountable by the nutrient density of their products.
Lightfoot agreed: “When we can put true nutrient density info on products, that will accelerate us to a better future.”
Importance of regenerative certification/verification
Asoudegan said that regenerative resonates with consumers. “People are talking about this. There’s more of a signal in the market than ever before. We will need all our brands to tell the story.”
Westgate asked if regenerative certification is needed. Asoudegan cited her company’s Land to Market verified Do Good Dogs.
“Outcomes are the way to negate greenwashing,” she said. “You can’t fake the nutritional value of a product.”
Lightfoot said certifications are required. “Consumers need to have signals they can trust. It’s confusing in the marketplace, and it’s really the early days (of the regenerative agriculture trend).
He said that Patagonia has invested in the Regenerative Organic Alliance (the organization behind Regenerative Organic Certification).
Casteel also said certifications are important, citing SPINS data showing that three out of four consumers look for certifications when buying products. He said that Regenerative Organic Certification is gaining greater recognition and acceptance in the marketplace, citing the growing number of brands promoting ROC products at Expo West.
“We believe it’s the right thing to do”
The panelists emphasized that regenerative agriculture is not a luxury for food brands, but a necessity—a “life raft”—to save the planet from the impacts of climate change.
“Farms growing regeneratively are weathering droughts and floods. We believe it’s the right thing to do,” Lightfoot said. “If we weren’t just interested in growth, we would still like to save humanity.”
“Regardless, we have to do this,” Asoudegan said.
In response to a question about the most important step to deliver nutrient-dense foods, Asoudegan said: “We have to make supply chains more efficient; this will happen with deep levels of collaboration (between brands).”
The panelists also agreed that regenerative should not be limited to organic.
“Farmers who do the most basic practices and see that cover crops work; they can learn a different mindset,” Owens said. “ROC is the north star but we have to have farmers step on that first rung (to regenerative).”
Lightfoot agreed, saying that any farmer who takes steps to better their farm can move on the regenerative path.
“We want to pay farmers to grow food in healthy ecosystems that are good for the planet and human health. We believe it’s the right thing to do.”
He predicted that the rise of regenerative agriculture will “blow the doors off of what we’ve seen for organic.”
“Regenerative food is what mothers want to feed their kids,” Lightfoot said.