A conversation with Paul Greive, founder of Pasturebird, about rising millions of birds on pasture per year, selling to one of the largest chicken producers in the world, the positive impact of chickens, and much more.
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This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of The Environment, which is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. The Grantham Foundation raises awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports organizations working to find solutions. Over the last few years, the Grantham Foundation has funded an extensive portfolio of projects focused on reducing emissions and removing carbon directly from the atmosphere.
Can chickens ever be regenerative? With Paul we discuss the impact on degraded farmland, replacing fossil fuel and toxic fertilisers and, of course, one of the biggest exits in the regen space!
Not many can say that they build a successful pasture chicken operation, sold it to a 8 billion a year chicken company and, after this successful exit, continued from within this massive corporation to scale pasture-raised birds to millions of chickens. So, do we need big ag in the regeneration transition?
THE RISKS AND OPPORTUNITIES OF JOINING BIG FOOD OR BIG AGRICULTURE TO CHANGE THINGS FROM WITHIN
Selling to Perdue was probably one of the hardest decisions of Paul’s life, as he would think big agriculture was the whole problem, the devil. As he got farther into it, Paul came to the realisation the people inside of these organisations are probably goodwill people that mean well.
”We may see the world a little bit different, but I don’t think that they’re inherently evil people or something like that. If these big ag companies are genuine about wanting to do things differently, we should welcome the opportunity to help them tack the boat or tack the Titanic, if you will. And so, when we got the opportunity to start talking to Perdue in 2018, I was really sceptical. I thought they were just trying to steal our IP, and probably go out and fake it or something.” – Paul Greive
”I’ll start by saying what hasn’t changed, which I’m really proud of the way that we’re raising the birds has only improved since joining forces with Perdue so, a lot of people will say, how do you maintain your integrity? How do you make sure they’re not just gonna take it and dumb down your standards and all that stuff? We created a very, very simple pass or fail model pasture raised. And that’s every bird has to spend the majority of its life on pasture to be called pasture raised. And we built this whole protocol around it, where it would be a violation of USDA principle for us to slap pasture raised on something that was not actually living on pasture for most of its life.” – Paul Greive
”It’s been really interesting to be part of this 100-year-old historic poultry company where I can call some of the best conventional chicken people in the world, and I think the natural and regenerative and organic world often shuns the kind of conventional side and the conventional side often shuns the natural and regenerative side. And I think, having this mutual respect and having some of these guys on speed dial, where we can ask some of these more complicated technical questions. And actually, they do have a lot to add, especially in something like brooding for us. Brooding is largely the same whether you’re doing it conventionally or regeneratively […] So, having these experts within the company that we can call on a daily basis, it’s like incredibly helpful” – Paul Greive
GREENWASHING OF REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE IS VERY DANGEROUS
According to Paul, you can get suckered into investing in conventional ag, which was actually rebranded. The problem with that is the big ag companies are going to see right through that and they’re not going to want to acquire those businesses. So, having a radar for greenwashing is very important for investment.
”As long as the consumers demanding regenerative, and they’re demanding kind of something new, I think there’s going to be a plethora of opportunities for exit with solid sound companies that are doing something really unique and different, to work with some of these bigger companies, because I don’t think that they can develop this stuff internally, they’re gonna have to acquire it and buy from the outside and to buy these talented teams. But it largely comes back to consumer demand and that’s why the greenwashing stuff really scares me. And I think unwise investors, unsophisticated investors, they’re going to be tempted into deals where the founders are saying all the right things, and we’re talking about regenerative this and that and they’re actually not doing anything that unique.” – Paul Greive
”Maybe the pushback is I feel the need to call out a lot of the greenwashing that I see. And I hate to do it. It’s not really my personality to be divisive in that way. But I do think the one thing that will end this regenerative movement faster than anything else is the kind of preponderance of a bunch of greenwashing. And when consumers realise that half of what’s called regenerative is probably bullshit and just marketing. It seeds a lot of distrust and a lot of scepticism within consumers’ mind. And I just, I really feel the need to call it out when I see it. And a lot of people don’t like that.” – Paul Greive
THE DIFFICULTY OF EXPLAINING NUTRIENT DENSITY ON A PACKAGE IN 2 SEC IN A SUPERMARKET ISLE
Paul learned that evoking is way more important than explicitly saying, and being able to catch somebody’s eye and help them to understand a concept in the two, or three seconds that you have in retail is critical.
”The hard thing with the nutrient density piece is how do you convey that to consumers in a way that they understand, and that makes sense to them in a quick retail environment? I think that’s where I’m still trying to wrap my head around, how to really explain that to people, you know?” – Paul Greive
”I think these certifications third-party approvals verifications, all these third-party things. We feel like we just need to tell our own story directly to our customers. That happens on social media. It happens on our own website, it happens a tiny bit on pack, but you can only do a little bit on pack. And I see a lot of brands that just list 3rd-party certifications. And it’s like they lose their impact when you list out a million of them.” – Paul Greive
”You immediately look at that package and you think, okay, this is something different. I don’t know what it is yet. But I know it’s something different on our pack, instead of saying Free Range and organic and all the terms that you see, […] nobody knows what that means.” – Paul Greive
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Paul also talked about:
- The secret sauce of pasture-raised chicken
- What kind of pushback do you get from local farmers
- How to lead with transparency
- Anthony Corsaro on investing in regenerative CPG brands after curing an autoimmune disease with nutrient dense food
- Karen Rodriguez and Ethan Soloviev – Should we be worried about the big brands and massive food companies getting active in the regenerative movement?
- Soil Builders, checking in with Zach Weiss on water cycles and a biodynamic baby food startup
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.