“Climate [change] has made people think about where food comes from even more than they usually have,” and they cannot be mollified with carbon offsets or half measures – “they want to see new systems of farming that actually are in line with nature,” said Gina Asoudegan, vice president of mission and innovation at Applegate.
She explained at Natural Products Expo West in California earlier this month that a “lightbulb went off when I learned that animals can actually be one of the most effective tools for sequestering carbon into the soil,” increasing biodiversity, improving the soil’s water holding capacity and improving the overall ecosystem.
“And I though, what better story could a meat company be telling than it’s not the cow – it’s the how. And that meat can actually be one of the best solutions we have out there for reversing climate change,” she said.
‘Democratizing’ regenerative agriculture with the Do Good Dog
To help “democratize” this message, Asoudegan said, Applegate created the first nationally available hot dog made with beef raised on verified regenerative US grasslands.
The company’s Do Good Dog is an “approachable ambassador for explaining what regenerative [agriculture] is,” according to Asoudegan, who explained the company is hoping the innovation will help take regenerative agriculture from niche to norm and show people that they can make a positive impact on the environment one small bite at a time.
The new line was made possible in part by Applegate’s collaborative approach to its mission of “changing the meat we eat,” which includes leveraging partnerships as a valuable tool for creating change.
For example, the company teamed with SunFed Ranch in Northern California, which is certified regenerative by the Savory Institute’s Land to Market Seal, to create the Do Good Dog.
Asoudegan explained by partnering with the Savory Institute to become certified regenerative, farmers not only measure the sustainable benefits of their actions but they also benefit economically, which she says create a positive feedback loop and incentive to “keep doing those good things.”
Unexpected partnerships across industries builds resiliency
If teaming with farmers to encourage the use of regenerative techniques seems like a logical collaboration, Applegate’s partnership with the clothing company Timberland may not be as obvious, but it is just as impactful.
“One of my favorite partnerships today is our partnership with Timberland. They are taking the hides from our regenerative meat program to use for their boots that are made with regenerative leather,” which not only exposes consumers in a different category to the idea of regenerative agriculture, but it also creates a more resilient system for farmers, Asoudegan said.
“The farmers in our system are getting paid more – a premium – for these hides that they’ve not seen before, so its more money back to the farmer,” she explained.
It also creates a supply “web” rather than a chain, which the pandemic revealed are highly vulnerable and if broken can have devastating consequences.
“In a web with Applegate, Timberland and others collaborating to use the entire animal, if any one of us – for whatever reason – pulls out of the business … the whole thing doesn’t collapse. So, it is building resilience from the ground up, which is really important,” she explained.
Looking forward, Applegate hopes to build on the success of its Do Good Dog, which launched in November 2021, with the introduction soon of hamburgers made from regenerative meat.
“Another very approachable product,” which also allows us to tell consumers our story and how we are helping to use the whole animal and encourage farming practices that go beyond sustainable to actually restore and rebuild the environment, Asoudegan said.
‘We will continue to push’
As Applegate strives to educate consumers about the benefit of regenerative agriculture and responsible farming and food production practices, it also is battling the negative impact of “greenwashing,” which can undermine its efforts, said new president Joe O’Connor.
“Some of the challenges today are some of the greenwashing that’s going on in the industry. There’s a lot of product out there and there’s a lot of mixed messaging – especially when it comes to plant-based,” he said.
He explained that Applegate hopes to counter this by leveraging ecommerce as a platform where it can explain the value and impact of its products – and regenerative agriculture – in more detail than is possible through the limited space just on packaging in brick and mortar stores.
Making products that are healthier for the planet and consumers has also improved the health of Applegate’s business, O’Conner said, noting that across the company’s five core categories it has grown 10-30%.
“People have really come around to understanding human health and the health of the planet” are connected, “and our business has moved people to become more educated around what they’re putting in their bodies and where their food is coming from,” he said, adding, “we will continue to push where we can push.”