Why we’re doubling our organic acres
General Mills will accelerate its commitment to more than double the organic acreage from which we source our ingredients for brands like Cascadian Farm, Annie’s and Muir Glen.
In 2015, we sourced from 120,000 organic acres, and we expect to be sourcing from 250,000 acres by 2019.
Consumer interest in organic is growing, which means we will need more organic ingredients to make our products.
Since 2009, General Mills has increased the organic acreage it supports by 120 percent and is now among the top five organic ingredient purchasers – and the second largest buyer of organic fruits and vegetables in the North American packaged food sector.
Today’s announcement is directly related to the anticipated net sales growth we expect for our natural and organic business.
Just last month at CAGNY, Jeff Harmening, executive vice president and chief operating officer for our U.S. Retail division, said we now expect to reach $1 billion in net sales from natural and organic products by 2019, a year ahead of our previously stated target.
There is no doubt that organic food has become more mainstream. But did you know that our Cascadian Farm business has been a key player in the organic food movement?
Our shared story starts in the foothills of the North Cascades mountain range in the state of Washington.
That’s where Gene Kahn, who was pursuing a master’s degree in English literature at the University of Washington, began his organic farm in 1972 with a few friends on about 20 acres of land.
He called it the “New Cascadian Survival and Reclamation Project.”
Gene knew little about farming. His friends didn’t like weeding and tilling the soil very much. Nor did members of a Los Angeles-based commune who had moved to the area to establish the Institute for Environmental Alternatives. All soon left.
Gene stayed put and took a second job to keep the farm going. He also took in students, who lived in tipis on the farm in exchange for free labor. And he studied books and articles on organic farming.
Gradually, it became successful. In the mid-1970s, the farm expanded to about 450 acres and Gene began selling potatoes, raspberries, strawberries and carrots out of the back of a Volkswagen truck. Then he began selling them to natural food stores and co-ops.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, he partnered with a food processor to create a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables.
By the mid-1990s, sales were growing between 40 and 50 percent per year – double the industry average. Gene formed Small Planet Foods in 1997 and acquired Muir Glen tomatoes – named for environmentalist John Muir – the following year.
In 2000, General Mills acquired Small Planet Foods and Gene stayed on – initially as president of Small Planet and later as chief sustainability officer overseeing our corporate social responsibility programs.
By that time, Gene had established such a reputation in the organic food industry that he served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board that crafted the national organic standards that began appearing on products in 2002.
“[Small Planet Foods] parallels the evolution of organic food from its position in the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s to its growing presence in the U.S. food mainstream in the early 21st century,” according to the history of the company on Encyclopedia.com.
Gene’s original farm – and its roadside stand – continues to this day. Visitors stop by from May to October for fresh, seasonal berries, and to learn about organic farming. And General Mills natural and organic brands have grown tremendously since teaming up with Gene 16 years ago.
We now have nine natural and organic lines, including Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, EPIC Provisions, Food Should Taste Good, Immaculate Baking, LÄRABAR, Liberté, Mountain High and Muir Glen. We’re the third largest maker of natural and organic food, with fiscal 2015 proforma net sales of US $675 million.
Gene, in an interview last fall with National Public Radio, said the decision to sell to General Mills was a good one.
“They’ve not only preserved the ethics and the whole vision of the company, they’ve improved it,” he said.
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