According to a recent survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) of 1,000 adults representative of the U.S. population, over half said they had heard of organic farming, crop rotation and sustainable farming. Fewer, however, were familiar with terms like soil health (33%) and regenerative agriculture (19%). The survey summary also notes that college graduates and people earning over $80,000 a year were more likely to say they had heard of regenerative agriculture.
“This certainly shows that consumers need to be transparently educated on what these terms indicate and need to be acclimated to hearing/reading these terms when farmers and brands work to connect with consumers about why these practices are used, how they benefit food production and how this links to nutrient availability and environmental sustainability,” Tamika Sims, senior director of Food Technology Communications at IFIC, told FoodNavigator-USA.
The survey then provided respondents with a definition of regenerative agriculture as “farming that aims to restore and maintain optimal levels of nutrients and microorganisms in the soil” to assess public perception of agriculture and consumption practices.
Not willing to pay more for regenerative agriculture
With definition in hand, respondents were asked which practices have the most beneficial impact on the land food is grown. Top two answers included environmentally sustainable farming (40%), followed by foods and beverages made without pesticides (35%) and products grown using regenerative agriculture (30%).
When asked about the top two practices for human health, the most common responses were choosing products made without pesticides (45%), without GMOs (25%), labeled as “organic” (20%) and grown using regenerative agriculture (20%).
Over one in three (36%) respondents view foods grown using regenerative agriculture as more nutritious but are not necessarily willing to pay more for the added benefits. Some 66% said they would choose a standard breakfast cereal over a more expensive version labeled as “grown with regenerative agriculture”.
“This is certainly related to what we typically see in our annual Food and Health Survey, which finds that taste, price and convenience are top purchase drivers, while environmental sustainability trails behind these characteristics,” Sims said.
Companies driving regenerative agriculture
Consumer awareness of holistic land management may still be lagging, but food industry giants are plowing ahead with commitments to regenerative agriculture to address the sustainability crisis and meet carbon reduction pledges.
General Mills is advancing its “holistic, principles-based approach to farming and ranching that seeks to strengthen ecosystems and community resilience” on one million acres of farmland. And last year, PepsiCo announced it expected to eliminate at least three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade by adopting these planet-friendly practices across seven million acres.
Other majors pursuing regenerative agriculture include Cargill, Danone, Hormel, Unilever, Land O’ Lakes and Walmart.