A conversation with Rafaela Gontijo Lenz, founder and CEO of Nuu Alimentos Brazil, about small and medium CPG brands and how they can turn a company around in a matter of months or years, and the importance of focusing on regen meat and dairy.
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Why are small and medium CPG- Consumer Packaged Goods- companies so important for the regen transition? They touch all the parts of the food web, they source from farmers, they have processing facilities or co-pack, they interact with large distributors and supermarkets and they interact with consumers. In all these relationships they can nudge and disrupt for regeneration, but maybe most importantly they are nimble and can turn a company around in a matter of months or years. Plus, why we should focus on regeneratively disrupting meat and dairy and not waste too much time on the crowded plant-based space? The real innovation is happening and has to happen in animal protein.
VERY LITTLE TALK ABOUT EATING AND FOOD CULTURE
People don’t talk much about the impact of how cuisine was founded, regeneration, or the need for us to preserve old indigenous recipes that are not found any longer. At Nuu Alimentos, Rafaela is placing the carbon footprint in the product they produce to show that they are carbon neutral or they use stamps that define the circular economy, but talking about regeneration today is too early, and people don’t grasp it yet. In addition, the government doesn’t invest any energy in regeneration, and even inside the food business is not easy to find peers to work with that take into account agroforestry or regen ag.
‘Regeneration is a tricky word. People just don’t know how to pronounce it. It’s not so spread here in Brazil. Consumers don’t know about it, so we don’t put regeneration in the packaging’. – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
HOW TO SCALE DEEP
SMEs and small start-ups can have a real effect on the system. They can look into ways of creating products in a natural positive way and not just decentralizing the whole operation. They should look for local producers, have small productions in different areas and scale up from there. SMEs can shift around and grow quite rapidly, and they can help shift the whole model. Entrepreneurs are passionate about regeneration. These companies have a lot of space to grow. Consumers’ minds are shifting: today they want clean labels. Startups that have CPG brands work in so many areas and have an influence on so many stakeholders. They dialogue with farmers to buy ingredients, with packaging companies, consumers, and retailers.
‘When you go to the supermarket and you see all this packaging, this is agribusiness, agribusiness is inside all of those packagings. If SMEs don’t look at how they are impacting the whole system, who’s going to do that? – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
‘We decided to bring knowledge and a model about regen agriculture and agroforestry to other farmers to try and bring impact to the whole chain.’ – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
‘When I found the impact that we make producing this product I saw that we needed to scale deep and that’s when we decided to create our own factory’. – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
KEEP IT LOCAL
CPG brands need to expand but be local at the same time to avoid harming the ecosystem. It is necessary to find local farmers to produce. You can be a global CPG brand and have a regenerative perspective, but you need to be local. At the same time, consumers need to understand that nature is not at their disposal and that eating an avocado every month is not possible because it comes from overseas. We should be educated to eat what is in our surroundings, local food. There are so many resources in Brazil, nuts and fruits, manioc, coffee, etc.
‘In the region that we are 80% of our suppliers come from 40km from the factory, so we are very local.’ – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
‘Everything should be local. We need to be eating as much as we can things that are produced here in the seasons and respecting nature.’ – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
INCORPORATING REGENERATION IN THE BIGGEST SALES. THAT IS MEAT AND DAIRY PRODUCTS
Very few people talk about disrupting dairy, as these talks are normally around plant-based products. In small farms of about 50 hectares, it gets easier to implement different systems, but at the same time, farmers don’t know much about these resources, and that’s the key issue. There is the need to find ways to bring this message to them. The consumption of dairy products and meat is very high compared to plant-based. Investors are missing out on the opportunity to go to a market that is already developed, and incorporate regeneration in the biggest sales, that are meat and dairy sectors. Investors could play a huge role as there is a lot of room for investment and innovation in these sectors.
‘I think we are missing out on a huge opportunity to understand how we can use diary products in a regenerative way, and we don’t see a lot of entry capital investing in this in Brazil’. – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
THE NEED TO PUT THE COW IN THE REGENERATIVE EQUATION
The cow is a strong part of Brazilian culture. A lot is consumed and exported. Hence the need to find ways to put the cow in the equation. It is important to understand how to work with dairy products and meat from a regenerative perspective.
‘In my company, we are trying to put livestock in the equation because I feel there are a lot of people working with plant-based products, while we see that the consumption of meat and dairy products is going to increase at least 50% by 2050.’ – Rafaela Gontijo Lenz
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Clara also talked about:
- The ingredients and history behind Cheese Bread;
- Tapioca, manioc and other local food wealth;
- Food summit and Game Changers Lab to scale agroforestry and the use of Agropedia;
- How natural products change their taste, and how packaged food will always taste the same;
- Can CPG’s brands be global without harming the ecosystem?
- Nuu Alimentos
- Fazenda da Toca
- Alex Atala’s secret history of tapioca
- Food Systems Game Changers Lab
- The Good Food Hub
- Felipe Pasini – Trees bring water so when in doubt plant more trees and complexify
- Nicolette Hahn Niman – Eating less and better meat is not the solution
- Paula Costa and Valter Ziantoni, scaling agroforestry by complexifying growing systems using software
- Paul Lightfoot on how carbon negative foods are taking off and why now
- Fabio Sakamoto, growing large scale Brazilian regenerative organic agriculture
Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.