LAS VEGAS — Organic food production has several needs along the supply chain. Companies need a steady supply of ingredients. Ingredient suppliers need steady access to raw material as well as organic knowledge to assist their food company customers. Farmers need to know a market exists before expanding in organic crops.
And every entity in the supply chain needs to make a profit.
“There has to be a good value exchange all the way to the consumer,” said Tyler Lorenzen, president of Puris Foods, in an Oct. 18 educational session at SupplySide West in Las Vegas.
Minneapolis-based Puris makes non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O. ingredients from soy, pulses, lentils and corn, and the company sources organic crops.
Executives from Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., and General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, also spoke at the session, detailing how they stay connected to different players along the organic supply chain.
Clif Bar in 2000 committed to organic and began transitioning brands to organic, said Tom Chapman, director of ingredient sourcing.
“We had committed to 80% organic by 2020, and I’m proud to announce we’ve hit that goal in 2019,” he said.
The company has supported organic farming. Clif Bar and the King Arthur Flour Co. in January 2018 announced the funding of a $1.5 million endowment for organic grain breeding research in Washington State University’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
Clif Bar adds organic figs to several of its children’s products. Mr. Chapman said the company for a short while imported organic figs from Turkey but then negotiated with fig growers in California, which led to a 10-year contract that involved turning conventional land to organic. Clif Bar also adds organic oats to its bars. Finding other uses for the crop, like oat protein or oat syrup, could improve the organic oat farmers’ market, Mr. Chapman said.
General Mills recently created a new role: organic and natural technical director. Bob Kaake, who was working for the Annie’s brand that General Mills acquired in 2014, was named to the position. He works with brands such as Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen and LäraBar.
“I try to connect all of the unique pieces that are required,” he said, mentioning supply chain, organic standards and consumer insights.
“Product developers coming into organic have to learn a whole new set of rules, and some of them are fairly nuanced,” he said. “Having suppliers that also understand those rules is extremely important.”
Food formulators have a “smaller toolbox” of ingredients to choose from when creating organic products, he said. Food items may qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic seal if at least 95% of the weight of the ingredients are organic and the remaining 5% or less are found on a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, meaning the ingredients are in short supply in organic form. A little more than 70 ingredients are on the National List, Mr. Kaake said.
“If you find a couple of functional ingredients that are not allowed in organic, it can all go downhill fast,” he said.
Pectin, used often in confectionery, is on the National List.
Puris Foods is sourcing organic peas and turning them into organic pea starch, Mr. Lorenzen said. The company hopes to develop organic pea starch that may replace the functionality of pectin in confectionery items like gummies.
Erin Heitkamp, senior vice-president of agriculture and public affairs for Pipeline Foods, Minneapolis, also spoke at the session. The supply chain company, less than three years old, seeks to accelerate the availability and reliability of non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O., organic and regeneratively grown food.
“We’ve got two what we call bookends of our business,” Ms. Heitkamp said.
One is providing resources to organic farmers and farmers transitioning to organic. The other bookend is working with food companies to set them up with organic supply. Pipeline Foods also partners with banks and crop insurance companies to drive organic farming forward.
“The farmer has to take the bet as to what they are going to grow and assume that the marketplace is going to be there,” she said.
Pipeline Foods helps the farmers connect to the market, not only locally but globally, she said.
Mr. Lorenzen echoed the importance of farmers in the organic supply chain.
“It takes an incredible amount of investment and a lot of risk on the farmer’s side, too,” he said. “So you have to be very thoughtful about it.”