You could say it’s one of those good news/bad news kinds of stories. The good news is that demand for organic food continues to grow at a robust rate, a trend driven largely by young consumers. In the U.S., organic food sales are expected to grow by 14 percent between 2013 and 2018. However, less than 1 percent of all American farmland is certified organic. This actually puts a drag on sales and keeps prices high, since supply is not always able to keep up with demand.
But getting additional farmlands certified is not an easy process. When I go to my local farmers markets, very few of the farmers advertise their goods as organic. But they often tell me that they don’t spray their crops. They just don’t have the certified label because it costs too much.
This is a problem that consumer packaged goods company Kashi and its partners are trying to solve by supporting the notion of transitional agriculture.
Transitional agriculture is a kind of midway point on the journey to full organic certification. It not only acknowledges the efforts that farmers are making in becoming organic, but it also allows them to charge a little more for their items, which can be recognized as Certified Transitional provided that certain criteria are met.
The transitional designation is the brainchild of Quality Assurance International (QAI), which worked with Kashi and others in developing the new protocol. A similar certification is offered by Santa Cruz-based California Certified Organic Farmers CCOF. Both certifications are accredited by the USDA.
The transitional certification is a three-year process, during which the agencies work with farmers to help them meet all the criteria. During that time frame, farmers need to learn new methods, purchase new equipment and new fertilizers, and build up their soil. It is an investment of time and money with no assurance that there will be customers at the other end willing to pay prices that make the investment worthwhile.
That’s where companies like Kashi come in.
"Kashi is committed to delivering plant-based foods that support powerful uplifting health in ways that are sustainable," said Nicole Nestojko, senior director of supply chain and sustainability at Kashi. "One of the ways we’re delivering on that commitment is by offering our second line of Certified Transitional products – Chewy Nut Butter Bars.
"We are actively looking at opportunities to include more Certified Transitional ingredients throughout our portfolio in the future, and our ambition is that all of our products will be made from USDA Certified Organic or Certified Transitional ingredients."
The company's first product using transitional ag ingredients -- or, as Nestojko calls them, "organics-in-training" -- was dubbed Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits and has been the company’s best-performing cereal innovation in over five years.
These products create a market for transitional agriculture -- which, in essence, fills the pipeline with more organic farms for tomorrow.
Kashi first started on this journey last year by purchasing hard red winter wheat – sourced from 860 acres of transitional farmland -- for use in shredded wheat biscuits cereal. After just one year, Kashi’s Certified Transitional products are now sourced from nearly 3,500 acres.
This week’s product launch builds on this momentum by showcasing other transitional ingredients, including almonds, dates and sorghum. In total, 10 farms -- located in California, Louisiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming -- now supply Certified Transitional ingredients to Kashi.
"As a farmer, I think of the decision to switch to organic as an equation – with dozens of variables that must be considered – such as the projected price of organic products, consumer demand, changing environmental conditions, and more," said Richard Gemperle, president at Edelweiss Nut Company, which supplies the almonds for Kashi's new Chewy Nut Butter bars.
"For me, Certified Transitional changed the equation in favor of making the transition to organic, giving me a way to reap immediate economic benefits.”
Ultimately, that equation comes down to consumers and the choices they make.
"Kashi has a role to play in promoting dialogue with consumers about the need for more organics," Nestojko of Kashi told 3p.Image credit: Will Powell: Flickr Creative Commons
"This is the first-time consumers can directly support the transition to more organics through their purchases. In the long run, this support will enable companies like Kashi to purchase more organic ingredients and provide more organic products to consumers."