Cascadian Farm releases limited-edition Kernza cereal amid crop challenges
- General Mills' Cascadian Farm wants consumers to help advance more climate-friendly foods by supporting research into Kernza, a perennial wheatgrass said to have a sweet and nutty taste and be more beneficial to the environment than its annually planted wheat relative.
- It is releasing just 6,000 boxes of its new Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal, the company said in a statement. To get one, consumers are encouraged to go to a fundraising site and donate at least $25. General Mills scaled back the rollout after crop failure decimated Kernza, according to the Star Tribune. “Many tears were shed in my office,” Maria Carolina Comings, marketing director for Cascadian Farm, told the newspaper. “It’s a crazy ambitious goal to try and commercialize this.”
- General Mills announced in 2017 that it was partnering with The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota to help commercialize Kernza. It originally wanted to put the grain into cereals and snacks as early as 2018.
Cascadian Farm said it's committed to developing a larger-scale market for Kernza by 2040 by working with partners, scientists and farmers to improve crop yields.
One of the reasons the new cereal product is being introduced through a small-batch, limited-edition release is because there are only about 1,200 acres in production now and yields are relatively small — approximately 25% of an annual wheat harvest. For the crop to be a viable option for farmers and food produces alike, it is evident more work needs to be done to boost its yield.
If more Kernza becomes available, Cascadian Farm said it will use the grain in additional cereals and snacks.
Early research shows Kernza has long roots that can help maintain soil, enhance its health and limit nitrogen leaching into ground and surface water, the company said. This could be attractive to shoppers who valuable environmental sustainability in the products they buy.
Another advantage of the grain compared to traditional wheat is that farmers don't need to annually till and replant the crop, which cuts down on soil disruption. The Land Institute, a Kansas-based nonprofit agricultural research organization that will receive donations from Cascadian Farm, trademarked the word Kernza after breeding the wild wheatgrass for 15 years, the Star Tribune reported.
But despite the grain's myriad of advantages, it is proving difficult to grow on a large scale. It seems that General Mills might have moved too quickly with its original launch. Carolina Comings said in an April podcast reported by Food Business News that Kernza takes two years to grow. She said it was a "tough call" to launch this limited edition batch, but the company is hoping the debut will help educate people about the grain.
Even with its challenges, Kernza is already in a variety of products, including beers and pasta, according to The Land Institute. In addition, products made from the grain are being served in restaurants in Minneapolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ohio.
General Mills has recently been demonstrating support for more sustainable agricultural practices, including grants to groups helping farmers adopt regenerative policies for better soil health. Since 2014, the company has worked with The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota to research Kernza.
If this level of dedication to developing the crop continues — and consumers respond to Cascadian Farm's request for research donations in return for a limited-edition box of its Kernza cereal — the market may see additional products containing the grain within a shorter timeframe. Meanwhile, Cascadian Farm hopes to have more available next year.