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Supply Chain
Regenerative Ag Practitioners Gather to Share Notes from the Field

Thursday at SB Brand-Led Culture Change, a variety of stakeholders driving regenerative agriculture shared insights on demystifying regenerative ag for consumers, quantifying regenerative sourcing and creating resilience in cotton production.

On Thursday at Brand-Led Culture Change, a variety of stakeholders scaling regenerative agriculture convened for Sustainable Brands®’ second Regen Ag Summit to share the latest insights and innovations driving progress in the field.

How to translate regenerative agriculture into consumer marketing

Image credit: Vital Farms

Moderated by Kristine Root, Chief Marketing Officer at Regenified — a third-party organization that certifies regenerative farms and products — this session covered the brand journey of US-based pasture-raised egg and butter producer Vital Farms, the benefits of regenerative practices at the farm level, and how Vital Farms turned its Restorative Eggs line into a top-performing product at Whole Foods in 2023.

Andrea Chu, Vital Farms’ Director of Impact and ESG, shared how the company has been deliberate in the design of its supply chain and direct relationship with farmers.

“Our supply chain is intentionally short as part of our business model,” she explained. “We want to have a direct relationship with farmers, so we can partner with them to move towards more regenerative-agricultural practices. A super important piece is that we are paying a premium to the farmers since we are asking them to take risks. We continue to invest in the farmers’ success, so that we can keep selling their eggs.”

Four of Vital Farms’ farms have been verified by Regenified. Chief Scientist Doug Peterson discussed some of the benefits farmers have seen by putting regenerative practices in place, emphasizing the importance of the water cycle and its impact on climate. “We need carbon in the soil to keep the plants cool and not evaporate … managing the plants correctly in ways that allow water to transpire through a plant — that’s the key.” According to Peterson, the farms employing regenerative practices have seen less flooding and water evaporation.

Despite a premium price point, Vital Farms Restorative Eggs have outperformed sales expectations at Whole Foods — which Chu said is partially thanks to packaging design: “We put the flower crops and plants on the pack. Consumers were very interested in the biodiversity message.” She mentioned ways the brand is using the on-pack messaging — including a “Vital Times” and a “Hen of the Month” feature inside the carton — to educate consumers about regenerative agriculture.

How soy is fueling the economy and brand value

Image credit: Julio César García

In this educational session about soy, Mac Marshall — VP of Market Intelligence at the United Soybean Board — talked about the prevalence of soy in many products today. He touched on common B2C applications such as edamame, tofu, soy sauce and infant formula as well as the sometimes lesser-known, B2B applications for soy — including feed for animal livestock or as a key ingredient in renewable aviation fuel and renewable diesel.

“We need energy to fuel the economy, but in ways that are not relying on extractive techniques,” Marshall said.

He thanked the attendees in the room who attended the soy farm visit earlier in the day and emphasized the need for brand and communication professionals to visit the farms where they are sourcing ingredients for products.

“Going out to a farm is such an essential part of understanding what is possible for a downstream brand,” Marshall asserted. “It’s part of understanding what your brand can do, but it is all fundamentally grounded in what farmers do.”

How to drive commercial value by quantifying regenerative sourcing

Image credit: Tom Fisk

In this data-driven session, Cristina Lampert, Head of Growth & Innovation at HowGood, gave an overview of how HowGood works with growers, suppliers and manufacturers to calculate the impacts of regenerative sourcing at the product level.

Lampert shared best practices such as ensuring that all data inputs are aligned with the GHG Protocol and selecting a data provider that is the most relevant for your industry. She then gave examples of the various ways that HowGood’s data can be used by brands — category benchmarking, sustainability claims, ESG reporting, Investor Relations, carbon footprint (such as the carbon-labeled menu items at this week’s event), and loyalty programs — to engage and inform various stakeholders about the many ways regenerative sourcing creates value.

Lampert ended the session by sharing examples of the kinds of data its SaaS platform provides through its impact assessment score — including information about relevant sustainability claims; carbon footprint data for a particular product vs. the overall category average; and metrics such as farm water usage, land use, soil health, biodiversity and animal welfare.

How to ensure social, as well as environmental, resiliency in cotton

Image credit: Forum for the Future

The Summit concluded with an informative session on cotton. Led by Paul Shoemaker, Executive Director at Carnation Farms, the panelists began by discussing the greatest threats to the future of the cotton industry — including climate impacts, water scarcity and record temperatures (“We work across Southeast Asia and India, and we have seen tremendous heat,” said Alison Ward, CEO of CottonConnect. “Last year, we saw heat above 50°Celsius — that’s the equivalent of 122°Fahrenheit.”), along with sometimes less obvious threats such as global conflict and political unrest.

Samantha Veide, Managing Director of US/Americas at Forum for the Future, spoke about the organization’s work to examine new business models for regenerative cotton — including a pilot in West Texas working with Black farmers interested in regenerative practices.

Veide highlighted the importance of including social considerations in the definition of regenerative agriculture: “For us, it is important that we are infusing people back into the conversation about regenerative agriculture. It’s about looking at the environmental impacts of the soil — but also looking at the quality of life of the people harvesting cotton, as well as the farmers who often take on the greatest financial risk.”

Veide closed the session with advice for how businesses can shift to a more regenerative mindset:

  • Focus on the how, not just the what.
  • Start with potential, not problems.
  • Care for the operating context.
  • Value history and lived experience.
  • Radically embrace a participatory approach.