NEW ORLEANS — Most of the exhibitors at the annual Institute of Food Technologists trade show have new products, new initiatives, new technology and new ideas to share with attendees.
But Corteva Agriscience is a bit different. They are new, period. The company officially started independent operations on Monday, the first day of the conference and trade show.
"We're a day old," Doyle Karr, the company's director of consumer insights and social license, told Food Dive from Corteva's large, two-level booth at IFT.
Corteva had been a division of DowDuPont, but it was spun off as part of a long-awaited breakup at the company this year. It is now an independent and publicly traded entity. The new company deals solely with agriculture, so it works with seeds, crop protection and digital platforms to use data to help improve farm production. It also produces Omega-9 canola oil and Plenish soybean oil.
But it's not a traditional ag company.
"(We are) founded around this purpose that we want to enrich the lives of those who produce and those who consume," Karr said. "So we want to be a production agriculture company with a food company mindset. And we want to have that sense of the consumers and understand their needs. ... What does the food industry need? Because that's how we're going to help our customers — the farmers — be successful."
Karr, who previously worked in biotechnology public policy for DuPont, said the company knows a lot about people who produce food, but not as much about those who consume it. In his new position, he's tasked with learning about food systems around the globe and determining how Corteva can work to bridge the gap with farmers to increase success for everyone.
This will be done in many different ways. Aside from the focus on consumer insights, the new company has a program called Food Chain CoNNEXT, which forms that bridge, working with retailers and processors to make sure they have the crops they need for the ingredients they use.
Corteva produces seeds that run the spectrum of consumer and manufacturer needs, from organic to non-GMO. With the company's new focus, they're working closely with food companies to find out what they want, and then communicting that to farmers to ensure the supply will be there.
"In the past, we would have had kind of a singular focus in developing seeds from a farmer's perspective, or a singular focus on developing crop protections," Keri Carstens, Corteva's global regulatory lead, told Food Dive. "Now we're adding to that and saying, 'With the consumer in mind, we need it to fit in these set of parameters too.' ... It's almost like a checklist, and the checklist expanded."
"We want to be a production agriculture company with a food company mindset. And we want to have that sense of the consumers and understand their needs. ... What does the food industry need? Because that's how we're going to help our customers — the farmers — be successful."
Director of consumer insights and social license, Corteva
Before Corteva, Karr said Dow and DuPont (the companies officially merged in August 2017) both dealt with consumers, but it was more on the back end. Consumer behavior impacted which crops were grown and how much was needed. Now they're going to be more direct, and food companies are glad to see it.
"When we go in and we talk about our purpose, they say, 'Welcome to the party. It's about time,' " Karr said. "And very specifically and very pointedly have said, 'If you're in agriculture, you're in the food industry.' "
Corteva is focused on collaborating with food companies — something that gets started by having conversations that are deeper than trying to sell products, Karr said. Wendelyn Jones, global leader of Food Chain CoNNEXT, said they're trying to expand to meet sourcing requirements.
"Both of our heritage companies had efforts in the food chain outreach space, but what we're doing as Corteva has an enhanced focus," Jones said. "Really, what we've done with our CoNNEXT program is do more than 1+1=2, but really try to make it 1+1=3, and amplify it. Take the best and build it and go. 'Oh, I didn't know you could do that.' That's opening up a lot more dialogue on the sourcing and that supply chain for the food industry."
Karr said those conversations tend to start out by asking manufacturers what problems they're facing, and trying to meet them where they are.
"The interesting thing on that is when you start asking them what the challenges are that you're facing, we start to uncover some of these things that we could help them with, that we had no idea," Karr said.
Some of these issues include pesticide residues showing up in food products.
Jones said Corteva can work with farmers to ensure that those chemicals are used in a way that the residues won't be an issue, as well as give manufacturers guidance in finding ingredient sources that will meet those needs. Carstens said they also see the issue of protecting bees because farmers see them as important pollinators, while food companies consider bees crucial to sustainability. Corteva's unique place in the issue can help find the right protective measures, and make it so the message to consumers is what they need to hear.
Though Corteva is brand new, it's already filling a niche in the marketplace. There are entities that are trying to make the same connections between farmers, manufacturers, consumers and the supply chain. There also are companies that produce seeds for staple row crops. And there are other businesses that have digital systems to improve yields and efficiency. But Corteva has it all.
Karr, Carstens and Jones said the wide portfolio, the experience and the focus on the consumer will help Corteva become a leader, and bring more profits to farmers. Bridging these gaps and working closely with all sides can help reward everyone, Karr said.
"It's a good thing to do, it's the right thing to do, but it's also good for business," Karr said.