- General Mills is partnering with The Land Institute and the University of Minnesota to help commercialize Kernza, a wild relative of wheat. The manufacturer is hopeful it can put the grain into cereals and snacks under its Cascadian Farm Organic brand as early as 2018, according to the Associated Press.
- General Mills said it plans to buy a significant amount of Kernza from The Land Institute. The manufacturer will also donate $500,000 to the University of Minnesota to fund research to help increase Kernza yields and uncover the best ways to grow, mill and market the grain.
- Kernza comes from the perennial intermediate wheat grass plant. It has dense, deep roots that extend more than 10 feet, twice as deep as conventional annual wheat. The crop also has an environmental advantage because it doesn’t need to be planted each year or the land where it is grown to be tilled, preventing soil erosion and keeping more nutrients in the ground.
General Mills' decision to consider adding the perennial grain to its ingredients roster comes as food manufacturers look for new, more environmentally friendly ways to source their ingredients that not only help their bottom line but also address growing consumer interest in where their food is raised.
Wal-Mart, Unilever, PepsiCo and other companies have pledged to depend more on agricultural suppliers who help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using water more efficiently. Target announced last year it was considering vertical farming for some of its stores where it would grow plants and vegetables indoors in climatized conditions and sell the food from the in-store gardens to customers. Other retailers are growing their own produce, including at least one Whole Foods store that has dedicated its roof to growing.
For grocers and food manufactures like General Mills’ Cascadian Farm Organic brand, expanding the reach into environmentally friendly ingredients from suppliers perceived as better stewards of land can be lucrative if consumers are willing to pay. Their efforts to source better ingredients can often be more expensive, leading to costs that must either be absorbed by the company or passed on to the public.
In the case of Kernza, the crop's yield so far is smaller than traditional wheat. Its grains are also smaller, which makes milling harder. General Mills’ interest and investment in the grain should give it a better chance to overcome those obstacles and potentially spur adoption by other food manufactures in the future. While the grain may have a future in the food business, it may be nothing more than a niche product until these improvements are made.