To help pave the way, the company teamed up with organic certifier Quality Assurance International to create an open-source Certified Transitional protocol for verifying and paying a slightly higher price for crops produced during the three-year window that farmers must go through to become organic certified.
“We found there was a fundamental issue in farmers making the transition from conventional to organic, and in fact, less than 1% of farm land in the US is organic,” Tina Owens, director, sustainability & strategic sourcing at Kashi told FoodNavigator-USA at Natural Products Expo West in California earlier this month.
She explained that Kashi and QAI created an open-source protocol that anyone can follow because the company felt that if it tackled the supply and demand gap on its own, it might not be enough, but if the protocol was open “other brands could join in the fight and we might actually be able to help growers get a premium during that process of transition in order to incentivize them to make the conversion to organic.”
The program also is unique in that it pays farmers a premium for transitional crops, but does not lock them into a long-term contract which some producers are hesitant to enter for fear they won’t get the best possible price down the line.
“The approach that we are taking is year-to-year. So, we contract with them at the beginning of the season on what they are growing for us for that year. When they transition, they are not beholden to us. They can sell their product as organic on the marketplace to anyone of their choosing. So, we are not locking them in some sort of vertical supply chain contract. This is really about helping them make the transition solely to organic in order to support organic acreage and access to organic to our consumers,” Owens added.
Since the program started almost two years ago, Kashi has paid farmers in its program $1 million above what they would have received for conventional crops. Most of this has come out of Kashi’s profits so far, but the brand is actively educating consumers so that they understand the value of voting with their dollars for certified transitional products.
“We actually use the back of our packages to communicate a lot of this. So, when you flip your cereal over or our bars over when you have certified transitional ingredients, you will read about the farmer on the back, where we are sourcing it from, what ingredients we have in there that are certified transitional. And then on the front of each package, there is a QAI logo that designates this is a certified transitional product,” Owns said.
Educating the consumer about the product is key to getting shoppers to “vote with their dollars at shelf” for products made with certified transitional ingredients, and showing other brands that the certification is worth it in terms of driving increased product sales, she added.