ReGen Brands Recap #22

Paul Lightfoot @ Patagonia Provisions

Architecting Regenerative Supply Chains

Paul Lightfoot is the General Manager of Patagonia Provisions. Patagonia Provisions is the food arm of Patagonia focused on building regeneratively produced products that scale to broad commercial success.

The Brand

While best known for its outdoor gear and apparel, Patagonia launched its Provisions food and beverage division a decade ago to address the systemic issues around the current food system, recognizing the impact food could have on Patagonia’s overall mission to “save our home planet." Contrary to the current system that harms human health and the planet, Provisions is proving that food can be grown in a way that’s actually good for everyone – while creating market opportunities to transform the system for the better.

Their Product Development Rubric

To date, Provisions has built an eclectic mix of products across multiple categories that are all based around hero ingredients whose growing practices can aid in the fight against the climate crisis. The business has largely been in an "experimental phase" to this point, which Lightfoot acknowledges was appropriate and beneficial. His new mandate as General Manager is to focus the business in a way that makes regeneratively produced food commercially scalable.

The biggest challenge to do that? Making solid choices quickly about what products / categories Provisions should and shouldn’t be in. So Paul and his team created a rubric (a Venn diagram with four circles) that informs every decision they make.

  • Quality – How does the product taste? What’s its nutritional value? 
  • Environmental Impact – This includes carbon footprint, biodiversity impact, etc.
  • Marketplace Demand – Do customers want this? Can it create repeat purchases?
  • Unit Economics – Will the product be able to scale? Can the supply chain support an adequate margin? 

Paul would like to see Provisions enter at least one new category a year, and they’ve started building product "families" in some categories like pasta, beer, and seafood. For the future, they are looking at pantry staples – recognizing that there’s a tremendous impact (in terms of farmland practice adoption) to be made in the food people use every day to sustain their families.

“We make pasta with Kernza – a perennial grain that builds soil, restores farmland, sequesters carbon – it’s a hero grain. But we quickly realized a single item can’t succeed – a shopper will walk right by it in the store and building the supply chain is too expensive and complex. So instead, we’re building a whole category around kernza, launching a line of pasta items nationally with the Patagonia name. Now the consumer sees a pasta with an interesting story that’s delicious and reasonably priced, and we’re scaled commercially to make an impact.” – Paul

More Than A Story

Patagonia has a rich history of success – which Paul attributes to the brand putting quality first. For Provisions, quality is based on the three pillars of taste, nutrition, and food safety. Regenerative products have a storytelling advantage because they are at the highest intersection of taste, environmental impact, and nutrition. But how you tell that story to the consumer is really important. And while Patagonia has a rich history of great storytelling, those stories only get you so far. 

For example, Provisions has launched a line of tinned mussels. These bivalves do a great job cleaning the ocean, they’re low impact, sustainable, and without the issues of the commercial seafood industry (aka, what Paul calls “the feedlot of the ocean”). But the product has also gone viral on TikTok, tastes great, has a long shelf life, and is affordable. It’s successful not just because of the sustainability story, but because all pieces of the rubric are satisfied.

“A brand must also have complete synchronicity across all elements of its business – from product quality to the storytelling to sales and marketing. Even though consumers are increasingly wanting to be part of the solution, and buyers are getting bullish on regenerative organic certification, your product needs more than a story to succeed. If you produce a brand with high environmental impact but low quality, you ultimately lose your impact because you’ve diminished buyer confidence in the process.” – Paul 

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Creating Market Opportunities

Key to achieving their mission is creating real market opportunities that motivate farmers to convert to regenerative practices. Too many farmers are stuck in the current cycle, relying on more and more inputs at higher costs to hit yield targets even though they recognize it’s not sustainable for their land or bottom line.

“While many will argue that you can get higher yields with regenerative practices, the real story is you get better profits. There’s plenty of opportunity for farmers to make enough money growing food regeneratively, and it’s my job to help them understand that and to create market demand. I get to disrupt the current system, flip the current sequence, and start from scratch. We can focus on building high-quality products that have an impact, have the demand, and take market share away from our 'food enemies' (net-pen salmon farming, feedlot beef, and monocrop corn & soy).” – Paul 

Our Path to 50% Market Share 4 Regen

Consumer demand will be the lever that changes the food system, and preserving the labeling standards and integrity of the Regenerative Organic Certification is critical. However, warns Paul, as regenerative gains traction in the marketplace, there’s a risk of it losing its meaning if we let big food abuse the labeling and certification. That’s why Provisions is pushing to keep these high standards, sometimes at the cost of commercial success. 

Also critical to growth? Redirecting rather than rebuilding infrastructure. As Anthony and Paul assert in the episode, without putting existing infrastructure to better use, we’ll never be able to scale regenerative fast enough. Provisions is proving this mindset, having just test-launched kernza-based beer, starting with three geographic partners: Topa Topa in Southern California, Russian River in the Bay Area, and Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland. They’ve established licensing partnerships with existing values-aligned brewers using the Patagonia label to attract their existing outdoor apparel customers who are environmentally conscious. 

“Imagine if you decided to build a whole new brewery industry – all the wasted time and resources to recreate something that already exists. We have the infrastructure, the engineers, the salespeople – let’s just change it up and do it in a way that has a better impact.” – Paul

You can check out the full episode with Paul from Patagonia Provisions HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober