Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese is set to be made with wheat that is grown not just organically, but also with regenerative farming practices that store carbon in the soil, according to Food Manufacturing and Fast Company.
General Mills — which acquired Annie’s in 2014 — will convert 34,000 acres to organic farmland in South Dakota, creating the state’s largest organic crop farm, and it intends to help farmers implement regenerative practices like crop rotations and cover cropping. This process could help fight climate change by pulling carbon from the air, while also promoting biodiversity and soil health.
The company will sell limited edition boxes of Macaroni & Cheese and Bunny Grahams made with the wheat in Sprouts supermarkets this spring. The company aims to double its organic acreage by 2020 and cut emissions 28% by 2025 throughout its supply chain, because it expects climate change to be bad for business.
Regenerative farming is nothing new, but a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that conservation practices have fallen from favor among farmers in the United States. For Annie’s, the move is much more than a good branding opportunity — as demand for organically grown and sustainable food has soared, production has struggled to keep up.
Farms classified as organic account for just 0.7% of total farming operations in the U.S., even though the amount of land being converted to organic practices has risen rapidly in recent years. According to USDA figures, the number of organic farms is up nearly 300% since 2002.
Meanwhile, Rabobank expects U.S. organic food sales to grow at a CAGR of 7.6% to 2025, but manufacturers have been finding it increasingly difficult to source organically grown ingredients — whether mainstream commodity crops like wheat and corn, or specialty ingredients like herbs and spices — which may not be grown in the United States.
For General Mills, the decision to go even further than organic standards is likely to appeal to ethically minded consumers, and products that use the wheat will feature a new design with the words “Soil Matters!” on the packaging. However, in the context of growing demand for organic foods, expanding its supply of organic ingredients is a survival tactic for the company as much as the planet. As a major manufacturer, it can afford a gradual transition to more sustainable agriculture, and intends to support farmers who adopt regenerative farming practices while they make the three-year transition to organic farming by using their products in brands that are not yet organic.
Other manufacturers and retailers including Stonyfield Farms, Organic Valley, Whole Foods and Nature’s Path Foods are among those who also have offered financial and technical assistance to farmers in an effort to boost supply of organic ingredients. Based on this roster, it's likely that other companies will follow.