A conversation with Karen Rodriguez, chief operation officer of Kiss the Ground, and Ethan Soloviev, chief innovation officer at HowGood, about how they joined forces to update the Regenerative Agriculture Industry Map, whether we should celebrate the big brands and massive food companies moving into the space, and what makes these two veterans of the regenerative movement cautiously optimistic.
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After Ethan Soloviev made the first version of the Regenerative Agriculture Industry Map at the end of 2020 a a lot has happened. The regenerative agriculture industry grew massively over the last 3 years, but where is it going and is it enough?
THE REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE INDUSTRY IS GROWING FASTER THAN ETHAN EXPECTED TWO YEARS AGO
The updated map would not have happened if Karen hadn’t reached out to Ethan with this specific idea.
”Hey, can we refresh this? This is still moving, it’s still growing, it’s been COVID for years, and yet it continues to grow. How much is it growing? Did it actually slow down? And so it was amazing, by the end of it, we got to go back and look at some of the predictions… I made those predictions in 2019, it was December, and I was like, ‘Well, who knows, I’m just gonna make up some numbers, and maybe we’ll put 350 organizations by 2022.’ And then we did the numbers, it’s almost 550 organizations. So, we actually underpredicted how fast it would grow.” – Ethan Soloviev
”Karen had that intuitive sense from running and growing Kiss the Ground, and seeing what she was seeing, she knew it was growing in that way. But it took her reaching out to be ‘let’s dig in, let’s really get the data, let’s check it out to show that and then with it, we’re going to have yet, another magnet, another beautiful flower, that sort of opening up and it smells good and there’s nectar inside and it will call others to it.’ And that’s exactly what happened.” – Ethan Soloviev
”And you and the team made this beautiful graphic that showed the growth and the expansion over time. And I think we really are in that sort of flowering of regenerative agriculture as a movement. We’re not all the way to the fruit yet, right? It’s like the flower is still open, and a bunch of the flowers are going to not get pollinated and wither and die in the next couple of years. But there will be some fruit, it’s already started, but more and more will come. And so, I think that’s just a great way to think about where we are right now in the movement.” – Ethan Soloviev
ALL THE BIG BRANDS AND LARGE CORPORATES ARE MAKING COMMITMENTS AND USING THE TERM REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE
There are large groups that are working on regenerative agriculture. There are over a trillion dollars in revenue annually from companies that are committing to work on regenerative agriculture, Ethan argues. So, that’s exploding. It also has something to do with why we’re seeing this growth, the number of CPGs has grown by almost 4x, even in the last three years.
”It wasn’t so much a surprise to be honest, because hundreds of people have been working on this now for a while. But it felt so nice to see the fruits of the labour. The beginning of the map, if you look at the beginning of the map, there are 10 companies, and then to see fulfilment and go beyond what we thought.” – Karen Rodriguez
”There are a number of privately held companies in the food space. Mars is one of them, Gorilla is another and by large those and other privately held companies, are in many cases being leaderful, they are thinking forward, they are looking at it. And then as a counterpoint, you see examples of companies like Danone, or Unilever, both of whom had very leaderful visionary in some ways, especially with regards to sustainability, and environmental and social value, CEOs and leaders who push things along and then got pushed out for various reasons. And so, it looks like that, from that perspective, it is more attractive, but I can’t quantitatively say from the data how good keep on the whole global food system.” – Ethan Soloviev
”But I can’t conclusively say that if I look at the total impacts of publicly traded or privately traded, or even, I don’t know, Patagonia is an incredible company and it’s doing some really innovative things in this regard and yet, do I look at them and definitively say that their impact has been lower or that they’ve done more regeneration than the others? […] Yes, there’s been a lot of motion there. But on aggregate, are they actually pushing things farther and faster than publicly traded companies like General Mills, who has a real shareholder bottom line to report to and yet are doing incredible, very innovative things, not just in agriculture, but internally with regenerative business?… I don’t know. I don’t feel like I have a clear conclusion to that hypothesis yet.” – Ethan Soloviev
THIS DOESN’T MEAN THEY GO DEEP BUT AT LEAST THEY ARE PARTICIPATING
According to Karen, there isn’t hard tension at this moment. However, people don’t know what’s coming, they don’t know what they’re saying yes to.
”I would say that there are a lot of good intentions that I’ve seen of people coming down the path, but a misunderstanding of that spiral essence. They come in, they’re poking around, they want to know, they care about it. I see a lot of good. […] I couldn’t tell you like what happened over the years, because it’s just the beginning. But what I do see is that once people really learn about it, more once a company really gets into it and really learns, maybe it takes one of our courses or something. Internal staff themselves start to ask more questions, and they start to really start to ask questions within the organization itself. And that’s been really beautiful to see.” – Karen Rodriguez
”They’re getting drawn into that delicious, beautiful flower, they’re excited about it […] I don’t see the hard pension, but I see lots of real differences inside of companies. We work with HowGood now, which works with five of the 10 largest food companies in the world. And we see a lot of individual champions, or small teams that really get it, that go further on their journey, they’ve been on farms, they’ve been trying to figure out how to get regenerative supply into their system, they’ve been looking at the impact, the impact factors, the carbon accounting, they’ve seen the new global biodiversity framework, they’ve seen the regulations coming in that, this is going to become more and more material to the financial bottom line of a business. And they’re getting out ahead and engaging with regenerative agriculture to move things forward.” – Ethan Soloviev
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen, Ethan and Karen also talked about:
- The importance of the map and its future
- Tensions within large companies and structured organisations
- Working to produce in abundance and regeneration
- Kiss the Ground
- Kiss the Ground published the Regenerative Industry map in Re:Generate Journal V2 with the Open letter to brands
- Possibilities of regeneration
- Food System Investing in a Regenerative Economy article on Medium
- Regenerative Agriculture Industry Map
- Ethan’s blog post about regen ag definition in 2018
- Regenerative Industry Landscape
- Agribusiness task force
- Simple Mills
- Lauren Tucker, co-founder of Kiss the Ground helps the next generation of regenerative businesses to thrive
- Finian Makepeace – How to get regeneration at the heart of the next US Farm Bill
- Lauren Tucker – The regenerative business studio ReNourish seems to be working but what is success?
- Ethan Soloviev on the enormous lack of regenerative ingredients for food companies and what to do about it
- Soil Builders, checking in with Zach Weiss on water cycles and a biodynamic baby food startup (White Leaf Provisions
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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.