With a presence in more than 140 countries, Corteva Agriscience generated $14bn in net sales in 2018. The company has more than 150 research and development facilities and more than 65 active ingredients in the market.
"The rubber’s hitting the road," Doyle Karr, director of consumer insights & social license, told FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show in New Orleans last week, a day after the company debuted on the New York Stock Exchange as its own global company of cropseed oils and crop seed protection technologies with a renewed emphasis on expanding its digital capabilities.
Karr said that the newly-independent company wants to be more than a supplier of commodity ingredients to food manufacturers, but instead develop a dialogue between Corteva and the food industry, which encompasses working directly with CPG executives and everyday consumers.
The farmer, consumer business model
"That connection to the consumer is something that everyone who works in agriculture aspires to, but we’re truly trying to provide opportunities that act as a conduit to that consumer," Karr said. "Instead of growing a commodity crop, they’re growing a crop for purpose."
According to Karr, much of the knowledge and information consumers receive about where their food comes from is provided by the food company, but even at the manufacturer level, production and processing knowledge doesn't tell the whole story.
"I do think that because of the strong interest consumers have on where their food is coming from, that food companies are leaping toward answering that question with very thin knowledge into what’s happening in production."
The company is working on building an open and ongoing dialogue between farmers and the consumer packaged goods industry, Karr explained.
"This premise of [connecting] farmers and consumers... We think it’s the right thing to do, but that it’s also a good business model. There is a lot of opportunity in that space that we’re going to be able to go after."
One initiative the company launched in November is its Corteva Grows Pollinator Habitat in partnership with National 4-H Council and Pheasants Forever. The program aims to not only support monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat at Corteva Agriscience locations throughout the US by converting more farmland into health habitats for pollination, but to educate the public on how the food system impacts the habit of these species.
"Pesticides aren't the No. 1 enemy to bee health, it's access to habitat," Corteva global regulatory lead, Keri Carstens, Ph.D, told FoodNavigator-USA.
In addition, Corteva has a growing consumer insights division and is ramping up its digital platform to help expand an integrated dialogue between consumers, farmers, and food manufacturers. According to Karr, recent consumer research showed that while many shoppers are skeptical of big food and its agricultural practices, there's a desire to understand the science behind the advantages of crop breeding technologies.
"We have lots of conversations directly with consumers where we answer those questions. They’re skeptical of everything, but they also appreciate that pesticides have a role; it's about this notion of a whole system," he said.
Capturing how consumers view the agricultural system of food production has helped Corteva identify new business opportunities, added Dr Carstens.
"As we’re looking toward that future horizon, we’ve heard a lot more interest in organics. We already have a play in the organic pesticides space. We have a very strong offering across the conventional pesticides space, but we're developing and working on improving our portfolio on the organic side of the spectrum as well," she said.
Developing a healthy oils business
One of the first ways Corteva is seeking to partner directly with the food industry is through its oils business, which includes a portfolio of high-stability oils including Plenish, its high oleic soybean oil, and its omega-9 canola and sunflower oils, which are ideal for packaged snack products die to their long shelf life and healthier nutritional profiles.
"There's a tremendous opportunity for the company to link its portfolio of oils right to food," Tyler Groeneveld, the commercial grains and oils leader for Corteva North America, told FoodNavigator.
According to Groeneveld, Corteva has a team of professionals that come directly from the food industry to help provide food companies with solutions that address specific health and wellness trends such as incorporating more healthy fats into their products while also addressing functional benefits such as increased shelf life and neutral sensory properties.
According to Corteva, Plenish has improved health properties compared to other soybean oils in the market. Using traditional plant breeding and gene editing, the company was able to increase the amount of Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid along with zero grams of trans fat and 20% less saturated fat than commodity soybean oil.
"What it all links back to is, 'What does the consumer want?'," Groeneveld said. "In terms of what’s coming, we're keeping an eye on allergies such as gluten free, getting more fiber in your diet and addressing how can we do that oil seed crops. That’s where the future is."