Natural Products Expo West
Simple Mills is creating market demand for biodiverse crops, pushing for equity
“Human health and wellness and nutrient density and whole food ingredients have really been a part of our mission since day one. … And over the last few years, we’ve really been digging into the impact that food can also have on the environment. And so, we are excited to expand our mission to include planetary health as an equally important part of our mission,” Christina Skonberg, director of sustainability and mission at Simple Mills, told FoodNavigator-USA at Natural Products Expo West earlier this month.
She explained Simple Mills is taking a multi-prong approach to planetary health to simultaneously improve the livelihoods of farmers, enhance equity across its supply chain and encourage other industry stakeholders to join in its journey.
Beginning at the farm
“When we think about our impact, all the way from seed to shelf to product disposal, at the end of the day, we see that actually most of the impact skews toward the farm level,” both in terms of environmental impact but also worker welfare and equity, Skonberg explained.
“For that reason, we are really doubling down on farming as one of our biggest levers for impact,” she added.
The first prong of Simple Mills’ approach is to encourage regenerative agricultural practices and increased biodiversity through the products it creates and the ingredients it sources, she explained.
“We’ve now got 14 products that were designed to advance regenerative agriculture… These products have been really intentionally formulated to have some connection to our regenerative ag program,” such as the upcoming launch of Pop MMMs cheddar baked crackers made with butternut squash and red beans, Skonberg said.
“This product was designed with crops in different plant categories, and this is all about building demand for a diversity of different crops in agriculture. Four crops in our feed system make up more than half of production in the world. And that’s a really fragile reality, right? So, we’re really trying to create market demand for more diversity, which is not only good for our ecosystems,” but also human health, she explained.
Beyond Pop MMMs, the company’s products incorporate other diverse ingredients, including watermelon seeds, chestnuts, beans and squash – “things that farmers really want to be adding into their rotation. Things that consumers want to see in their products.”
Pur Project partnership expands diversification mission
Simple Mills’ focus on crop diversification extends across its supply chain, and through a partnership with Pur Project it works with local cocoa co-ops to build awareness about the dangers of mono-cropping and the value of diversification.
But rather than offer “stuffy technical assistance,” Simple Mills and Pure Project are educating cocoa farmers about biodiversity, their rights and protections through “fun … theater-based radio shows” that Skonberg says she hopes “has a ripple effect across the region.”
The cocoa sourced from farmers in this program will be used in Simple Mills’ Chocolate Brownie Soft Baked Almond Flour Bar, launching in May 2023. The company also uses cocoa in its Cocoa Pancake & Waffle Mix, launching in April 2023.
Training the next generation of advocates
Simple Mills also is helping US farmers advocate for their needs and support for environmentally-friendly policies though the National Young Farmers Coalition, which convenes farmers from across the country.
“We’re supporting a cohort of young farmers to become policy advocates” through a year of training, which recently culminated in a lobby day in Washington, DC, where they met with congressional leaders to try to influence the 2023 Farm Bill, Skonberg said.
“They are really fighting for land access and climate resilience,” she added, explaining: “If we look at farming in the US, 95% of farmers are white, about half of the farmland is going to change [hands] in the next two decades and ...we want to make sure that land is in the hands of this next generation of farmers that are really leading the way toward equity and climate resilience.”
As Simple Mills continues to advance its mission, Skonberg said the company wants to partner with other stakeholders to magnify their impact.
“We can’t move the needle alone on this really, really important and massive body of work and our food system. So, we’re looking for ways to partner with other brands, our peers, with farmers, with eater – to really figure out how we can scale some of this impact.”