If you think consumers are confused by, or skeptical of, food labels such as organic, cage-free, free range and all natural, get ready for the next big thing: regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture does not have a single definition. In its simplest sense, “regenerative” refers to farming practices that improve soil health. However, unlike organic claims, this assertion is not tied to any standards and does not require verification. This may partially be because the practice is still so new.  

Image courtesy of Apricot Lane Farm

Some farms are early adopters of this new standard and have been reaping the benefits. Consider Apricot Lane Farms, a former lifeless 214-acre farm that was reawakened by the introduction of biodiversity through regenerative methods. Apricot Lane Farm’s story of regeneration is now gaining attention through its award-winning and critically acclaimed documentary, The Biggest Little Farm.

Larger companies are getting on board too. General Mills, PepsiCo, and Nestle have announced their commitment to supporting regenerative practices. Whole Foods is another supporter of the practice and sparked consumer interest in regeneration by stocking its shelves with such products and announcing the practice as the upcoming largest food trend.
Image courtesy of Unilever

Furthermore, this year, multinational companies, Unilever, Axa, and Tikehau Capital announced their plan to each invest 100 million euros ($104 million) into a 1 billion euro ($1.06 billion) regenerative agriculture fund, to pool resources that will support regenerative technological innovations.

Despite rising corporate interest in regenerative practices, consumers are not quite there….yet.  A 2021 Food & Health study found that 42% of Americans believe their individual food and beverage consumption has a moderate to significant environmental impact.  Yet, only 19% of consumers have heard of regenerative agriculture. Once the term was defined, consumers perceived it to be better for the land and to produce more nutritious foods.

Consumers are still hesitant to change their behavior, with a recent survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), finding that among the 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed, 66% would buy a standard breakfast cereal over its more expensive ‘regenerative’ counterpart.

This gap in consumer understanding has not thwarted progress. The Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) has taken regenerative agriculture a step further by combining its practices with that of organic farming. Since its formation in 2017, the ROA has designed the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) standard. To qualify for this standard, farms must be USDA organic and meet specific requirements for three pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.

Since achieving the Regenerative Organic Certification can take a lot of time and resources, only a handful of producers have met the requirements. Early pioneers of the certification, Alexandre Family Farm, Dr. Bronner’s and Lotus Foods, were featured at Natural Products Expo West in March.

Image courtesy of Navitas Organics

Senior Vice President of New Hope Network, Carlotta Mast, spoke about the introduction of regenerative agriculture at Expo West, explaining how it’s another way for the natural and organic foods industry to define itself. Perhaps proving its place in the natural foods industry, a new NEXTY award category was created to recognize the best ‘New Organic or Regenerative Organic Certified Product’. The winner of this award was Navitas Organics, the first company to sell regenerative organic certified cacao powder.

While “regenerative farming” may still be in its infancy, it may reinforce consumers’ interest in sustainability and act as a future differentiator for your brand story. As you develop your brand, think deeply about what matters to your consumer now and in the future. If you’re interested in better understanding the future of health and wellness and what role your brand could play, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Caroline Andrews

Caroline is a Bentley University senior studying marketing, media and entrepreneurship. At Compass Marketing, she manages all the Social Media and Content marketing efforts in addition to assisting with business development activities.

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