KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — A Regenified seal, although not nearly as prominent as the US Department of Agriculture’s organic seal or the Non-GMO Project’s butterfly logo, is making inroads into the US food industry.

Dallas, Texas, US-based Regenified verifies and certifies farms, ranches and products that restore ecosystems and regenerate soil. The seal extends across six countries, involves over 20 brands and covers over 1 million acres, according to Regenified. In contrast, the US organic market is nearing $70 billion, according to the Washington-based Organic Trade Association.

Regenified expanded in the milling and baking industry last year when King Arthur Baking Co., Norwich, Vermont, US, introduced Climate Blend flour that combines wheat varieties grown using regenerative agriculture practices. King Arthur created Climate Blend in combination with Washington State University’s BreadLab. The perennial wheat grown in North Dakota and Montana grows back naturally and does not need to be planted again for two to three years.

“It’s probably the most visible brand in the (baked food product) space that we’re working with right now,” Kristine Root, chief marketing officer at Regenified, said of Climate Blend flour. “We’re actually in conversation with a lot of food companies.”

Brands striving to attain the Regenified seal are in various stages, she said.

“Some are getting ready to release a certification on their packaging very soon,” she said. “Some are just getting started. We’ve got a couple dozen brands, a few in baking.”

Food company certification will take time because it takes time for the farms to become certified.

The certification for farms involves five tiers. In tier 1, less than 20% of land is certified as Regenified. The farmers have taken steps to implement regenerative principles and practices, but they do not yet qualify for the seal. Farms in tiers 2 through 5 qualify for the Regenified seal. In tier 2 farms, 20% to 40% of the land is certified. Then percentages are 40% to 60% for tier 3, 60% to 80% for tier 4 and 80% to 100% for tier 5.

Weight determines whether a product, such as a food product, qualifies for the Regenefied seal. If all the ingredients, excluding water and salt, come from fields certified as tier 2 through tier 5, the product’s packaging may say, “100% Regenefied.” If over 75% to under 100% of a product’s weight, excluding water and salt, comes from ingredients sourced from fields certified as tier 2 through tier 5, the product’s packaging may say “made with certified Regenified (ingredient).” If the percentage is under 75%, the Regenified seal is not allowed.

Regenified champions regenerative agriculture by focusing on enhancing biodiversity, soil health, water quality and nutrient density while supporting farm profitability, according to Regenified. Root said while the USDA’s National Organic Program focuses on avoiding chemicals, Regenified is more holistic, expecting farmers to work in harmony with nature and restore soil health.

Root said she expects consumers, once they understand the Regenified seal, to respond positively.

“They’re investing in supporting a company and supporting a way of farming that actually has measurable outcomes, that has a positive, measurable impact,” she said.

Root pointed to data released in 2023 from NIQ, which examines consumer buying behavior globally, that showed 54% of consumers said they were curious about trying regeneratively grown product.

Root added, “We’re actually in the middle of a consumer survey right now: What are consumers’ perceptions? What do they understand about regenerative agriculture? How much are they in support of regenerative agriculture?”

Early results of the survey may become available in late June, she said.

Ardent Mills, based in Denver, Colorado, US, included information about regenerative agriculture in a “Trend to Table” report issued in March. In the survey of more than 10,000 consumers over the age of 18, 49% said foods grown using sustainable or regenerative agricultural practices are important to their dietary goals and priorities, and 41% said foods with a lower carbon footprint are important to those goals.

Organic Market Rising

Dollar sales for the US organic market reached $69.7 billion in 2023 thanks to a 3.4% increase, according to the Organic Industry Survey released May 14 by the Organic Trade Association. Organic food accounted for $63.8 billion of the market. Within food, the organic grocery category had sales of $15.4 billion, up 4.1%. The top two performers within grocery were in-store bakery and fresh bread at $3.1 billion after an increase of nearly 3% and dry breakfast goods at $1.8 billion after an increase of about 8%.

“But the future for organic is not without its challenges,” the association said. “The latest term adding confusion to the marketplace is ‘regenerative.’ While regenerative labels are not necessarily top of mind for consumers yet, the attributes they claim to represent include soil health, animal and human welfare and biodiversity — attributes already embodied by the USDA organic seal. As new certifications develop around regenerative agriculture, there is concern of consumer confusion, making it all the more important to elevate organic education.”

The butterfly

Another certification comes from the Non-GMO Project of Bellingham, Washington, US, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building and preserving the non-GMO food supply. The butterfly seal signifying Non-GMO Project verification is found on over 120,000 stock-keeping units, representing $45 billion in sales, said Jade Vantreese, communications manager for the Non-GMO Project.

She noted SPINS data showing baked foods with the butterfly logo on the packaging accounted for $1.9 billion in sales at the end of 2023, which was up 8% from the previous year.

To qualify for the USDA organic seal, ingredients must be non-GMO, but some products carry both the organic seal and the Non-GMO Project’s butterfly.

Vantreese said a reason to carry both seals might be the Non-GMO Project standard, at over 50 pages in length, being more comprehensive than the USDA’s National Organic Program. The Non-GMO Project also tracks new technologies such as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats). Any product created through CRISPR does not qualify for the butterfly seal.

“We really see our label as complementary with USDA organic,” Vantreese said.

Ingredion data

Ingredion, Inc., of Westchester, Illinois, US, covered organics, non-GMO and sustainability in data gathered through its ATLAS database that spans over 33 global markets and more than 100,000 consumer interviews. Forty-three percent of respondents said they were checking ingredient and nutrition labels. The percentage for checking organic claims and the percentage for checking environment claims were the same: 25%.

When consumers were asked what claims they would pay more for, the top answer was natural/all natural at 78%, followed by offering health benefits such as digestive health and immunity at 77%. Organic was No. 3 at 75%. Non-GMO was No. 6 at 69%. Sustainability claims were not among the top 10. Consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 and/or those with children are primarily the ones who said they would pay more for added features and benefits, according to the Ingredion data.