Soup-To-Nuts Podcast: Applegate doubles down on regenerative agriculture after seeing the positive impact of its DO GOOD DOG

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/kcline
Source: Getty/kcline

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Can the humble hotdog help slow or even reverse the negative effects of climate change? According to natural and organic meat brand Applegate Farms the answer is yes – especially if it is made with regeneratively farmed beef, which the company is committing to using for all of its beef hotdogs by the end of 2025.

The company’s commitment, announced last week, has the potential to help regenerate six million acres of grasslands, which could increase the current regenerative acreage of Applegate suppliers by more than 2,200%. In addition, the company argues, modernizing cattle grazing practices could help change the conversation around animal agriculture’s impact on the environment from one that is negative to one that could help restore soil health, sequester carbon and protect against drought, wildfires and erosion.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts​, Applegate President Joseph O’Connor and Senior Director of Mission and Advocacy Carolyn Gahn explain why the company is going all in on regenerative agriculture for its beef hotdogs, including promising results from the company’s DO GOOD DOG pilot​ launched in 2021, which brought to market the first nationally available hot dog made with beef raised on verified regenerative US grasslands. They also share how else Applegate is meeting its mission to support animal welfare, environmental sustainability and a holistic food system that connects the health of humans, animals and the planet as detailed in its recently released inaugural Mission Report​.

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‘Changing the meat we eat’

When the founders of Applegate Farms launched the company more than 35 years ago they did so to bring to market what they deemed as “healthier” and “cleaner” versions of popular conventional items, starting with a hotdog without nitrates and quickly evolving to offer meat that is antibiotic-free, organic and all natural. This evolution inspired the company’s tagline – “changing the meat we eat,” which O’Connor explains remains the cornerstone of the company’s innovative efforts and the impetus of Applegate’s latest commitment to transition all of its beef hotdogs to those sourced from certified regenerative farms.

“When I look back at the history of Applegate, as I know it today, the team was never satisfied with just having a natural, antibiotic free item. That is what pushed them to say, ‘Okay, we can do now a little bit more,’” with the understanding that systemic change takes teamwork and time, but the benefits are worth it, he said.

Gahn added that explicit in Applegate’s mission is that the company constantly evolve to meet consumer expectations but without sacrificing its values, and in doing so help lead the broader industry to adopt healthier and more sustainable practices.

“When we think about our mission, we really operate under four pillars, which are people, environmental sustainability, ingredient integrity and animal welfare. And internally we call this our mission standards index. And really this is a framework for decision making, that allows us to evaluate the aspects of our products that consumers value with the standards that we set in the supply chain,” she said.

'There is an opportunity for us to help heal the plaent'

It is from these values that O’Connor said the company began exploring the potential impact of regenerative agriculture, including its DO GOOD DOG pilot that launched in 2021 and ultimately led to last week’s announcement about transitioning 100% of the company’s hotdogs to regeneratively farmed beef.

“There is an opportunity for us to help heal the planet while doing other really good things and making an impact,” but to do so successfully, Applegate needed ensure there was sufficient supply, which meant encouraging more ranchers and farmers to adopt key practices and working with certifiers to measure the results and hold everyone accountable, O’Connor said.

“It took a long time” to build the supply chain to support the DO GOOD DOG, he explained. To ensure there is sufficient supply for all of Applegate’s beef hot dogs for this next phase, he added, the company will need more time – which is why it is giving itself through the end of 2025 to meet this new goal.

“We are working with over 250 beef farmers throughout the world to implement this regenerative standard with third-party verification through certifiers, like Land to Market. And so, it takes time, and it takes us working collectively together to make sure that we have the sourcing built up,” he said.  

Gahn added that Applegate was also drawn to regenerative agriculture’s ethos of continuous improvement, which mirrors Applegate’s mission and commitment to continuously evolve for the better. She added that to make a “big shift” in agriculture, Applegate is committed to helping its existing suppliers transition rather than finding new farmers who already practice regeneratively.

Applegate saw 'a lot of potential' in DO GOOD DOG pilot

Applegate’s confidence that sourcing beef from regenerative farmlands for all its beef hotdogs is both possible and beneficial is grounded in the results it saw from its DO GOOD DOG pilot.

O’Connor said that the company used the DO GOOD DOG to explain to consumers what regenerative agriculture is and why it is important. In response the company saw increased consumer engagement and demand for the product. But it also saw consumers struggling to make a choice at shelf between the regenerative DO GOOD DOG and the company’s other organic and natural offerings. Transitioning all its beef hotdogs to regenerative agriculture will help simplify this decision for consumers.

As for the environmental impact of the initiative, Gahn said the DO GOOD DOG performed twice as well for biodiversity as average processed meat and analysis by the independent research company HowGood revealed high marks for soil health, processing, blue water use as well as ingredient processing greenhouse gases and animal welfare.

“Looking at those numbers, there is a lot of potential there [and] … it really motivated us to double down” on regenerative agriculture, she said.

The business benefits of ‘changing the meat we eat’

There is also a strong business case behind Applegate’s decision not just to support regenerative agriculture but also its higher animal welfare standard as well as its commitments to organic and all natural. To better understand that impact and the business case for ‘changing the meat we eat,’ Gahn said the company worked with Ecotone Analytics to estimate the social, environmental and economic benefits of its sustainability initiatives and animal welfare standards across the supply chain.

Based on the analysis, Applegate predicts it’s Humanely Raised, No Antibiotics Ever, Organic and Grass-ed standards across its value chain helped it reduce pesticide use by 220,000 pounds in organic acres in 2023 and improved water quality in organic production by cutting nitrogen fertilizer lost to water by 480,000 pounds.

It also estimates farmers following its animal welfare standard earned $540,000 in additional revenue, in part, because its animals were less likely to be bruised. Companies cannot sell bruised meat.

From a consumers’ perspective, Applegate estimates consuming grass-fed beef over grain-fed beef helped cut 1,100 grams of fat from their diets and 7,350 fewer calories over the year.

Teamwork is key to scaling regenerative agriculture

As illustrated by these results, the benefits of more sustainable business practices can be felt across the supply chain, but to achieve those Gahn and O’Connor said stakeholders – including sometimes competitors or businesses from different industries – need to work together to support regenerative agriculture.

“I truly believe for this to be successful, it takes multiple brands and multiple categories to really help get this message out, and so … my message to peers would be let’s do this together,” O’Connor said.

As ambitious as Applegate’s initiative to source 100% of its hot dog beef from regenerative farmland is, it is far from the company’s only sustainability goal. In its Impact Report released this month the company also outlines three-year commitments to increase its offerings of nutrient-dense, allergen-free, clean-label products by joining the non-profit Food Allergy Research and Education advisory committee and investing in research to measure the nutrient density of regenerative meat. It also will launch an Animal Welfare Advisory Board and implement third-part remote video auditing in all its processing facilities as part of its ongoing goal to promote animal welfare. And finally, it will continue to foster inclusivity in its business by launching DEI initiatives in its consumer marketing, supply chain, workplace culture and community engagement.

For those who want to learn more about how Applegate is approaching sustainability, including its regenerative agriculture efforts, check out the company’s full Impact Report at

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