The Perils of Focusing on the Environmental Story

I’m excited about Kernza, in part, because of the possible environmental impact it offers. It’s what usually brings media attention, and is why many people cook with our ingredients.

However, sustainability is not a top reason why people buy food. It’s usually health, taste, and price.

So, if we care about the environmental impact of Kernza, how do we help create demand for Kernza, so that it can be planted on millions of acres?

We don’t think the environmental story is the best path, and that instead it really needs to be delicious, healthy, accessible food, which happens to be made with Kernza.

One company we’ve been watching to see how the environmentally focused sales pitch works is Beyond Meat. Unfortunately, it’s not really working out. Beyond Meat raised a lot of money, pushed their products out into many stores, and got a lot of people to try their products. But, they seem to be reaching the point where those who were going to try it have tried it, and now their sales are falling. People don’t love their food, and they aren’t continuing to eat it.

What does this look like?

What’s the lesson? Missions looking for business models are hard. You need to have an incredible product, which happens to meet a mission, to get to a larger scale and impact.

Beyond has tried influencer marketing to get over their sales problem.

The commenter above is the former CEO of Annie’s, and is pointing to the same problem: repeat purchase, meaning customers who love eating the product.

So, what does this mean for Kernza? We need to figure out incredible, delicious, healthy foods made with Kernza, and not focus on the environmental marketing story. We need to make food that people love to eat, want to share, and eat regularly as a food. Trying to use small percentages of Kernza as a magical environmental marketing dust is unlikely to develop wonderful, beloved foods that can scale the impact of perennial agriculture, and create sustained markets for growers.

Here are some articles that have covered this in recent months: