ReGen Brands Recap #61

Jay Albany @ Wide Open Agriculture

Regenerating The Western Australian Wheat Belt

Jay Albany is the CEO of Wide Open Agriculture. Based in Australia, Wide Open Agriculture is a leading regenerative food and agriculture company with three distinct enterprises.

  • Dirty Clean Food is a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform that sells 300 different regenerative and artisan products directly to wholesale and individual consumers. 
  • Under the Dirty Clean Food brand, they also have a CPG lineup of regenerative oat milk products.
  • Wide Open Ingredients is a B2B business, reimagining Australian sweet lupins by using proprietary technology to create a nutritious, sustainable plant-based protein that is highly functional and versatile (Buntine Protein®). Lupin is a rotational crop in the Western Australian wheat belt, but currently does not have a large profitable market as a human food ingredient. 

Wide Open Ag is targeting local and global impact while operating under their 4 Returns mandate which includes financial, natural, social, and inspirational returns.

Regenerating The Western Australian Wheat Belt

Much like the American Corn Belt, the wheat belt in Western Australia was once a diverse rich landscape that has since been decimated by 100+ years of intense farming practices. In the last 40 years, corporate farms have taken over small family farms. Around 2017, WOA’s original founders decided there was an opportunity and profound need to introduce regenerative practices to restore the soil and create fair value for farmers.

“We’re a business that’s about creating and securing commercial offtake to help people confidently invest in switching to regenerative or helping people who are already regenerative get a fair price for what they’re doing. We wanted to use regenerative farming to create a business that hopefully improves the value of crops and improves family farmers' lives. We wanted to make investments in the region, buy their products, and pay a fair price for all that work.” – Jay

Bringing Better Food To Western Australia

Having just built a successful online grocery business in New York, Jay was excited to launch a new venture in food in a new country of his choice, and help the founders create a market access vehicle that financially rewards regenerative stewardship.

That was the easy move. Next was trying to convince farmers and the potential end markets that regenerative was the right path. Jay aligned with a local regenerative beef farmer and started driving around Perth to tell the regenerative story to potential customers, but he was disappointed with the lack of early success.

His farmer partner had a piece of advice: stop trying to sell everyone on sustainability and lead with flavor.

Ironically, Jay's first big breakthrough was Short Order Burger in Perth, an American burger restaurant. From that, sales took off and grew quickly, especially during COVID. They’ve reached $12M in annual sales, selling 300+ regenerative and artisan products sourced from 15 regen farmers stewarding 30k hectares and 50+ artisan food producers. They sell to foodservice customers, in grocery stores, and directly to consumers - all under the Dirty Clean Food brand. 

“We are a group of people who care about where food comes from, how we can be healthier and be more respectful to the planet, and bridge the debate between plants versus animals. I sleep well at night because I know that every time I sell more cows, that's fewer cows going into grain lots. People are getting healthier, better-tasting meat that is actually doing something good for the planet..” – Jay 

The World’s First Regenerative Oat Milk

Southwest Australia benefits from more rain than other regions of the continent, making it a perfect spot to grow some of the best oats in the world (according to Jay). After seeing the success of Oatly in America, Jay went on a quest to determine how to market regenerative oats. Soon enough, the team had a plan put together to bring the first regenerative and carbon-neutral oat milk to the market. They knew they had a huge global success on their hands!

But the results weren't quite what they had hoped:

1) They were shocked when Minor Figures came out with a carbon-neutral oat milk weeks before theirs debuted.

2) A partnership with a leading manufacturer in Italy proved too challenging due to the time constraints of shipping oats there and milk back. 

3) Securing distribution, particularly in foodservice, was particularly challenging given their competitors were better funded and had more marketing dollars.

But just like with regenerative farming, when one thing doesn’t go as planned, you keep moving forward. Because it's all about continuous improvement. So Wide Open Agriculture is leaning into what makes their oat milk special: being locally sourced and regenerative. They have recently tapped into a government grant that will enable them to manufacture the oat milk in Australia, allowing them to re-shore production while continuing to source more regeneratively-farmed local oats as the key ingredient. 

And, most importantly, they’ll be leveraging protein from their newest regenerative source – lupin.

Sweetening The Deal For Sweet Lupin

Sweet lupin is a flowering legume that’s grown in wheat rotations, with Australia growing more than anywhere else in the world. It’s great for fixing nitrogen, reducing dependence on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and acts as a critical tool for regenerative farmers to restore microbiology in the soil. Most farmers use it as sheep feed, which doesn’t command as high a price as commodities that end up in human food.

For many years, Australian universities have been trying to figure out how to make lupin a better food ingredient. WOA was able to purchase technology coming out of Curtin University that unfolds the lupin protein structure, transforming it into a high-functioning food ingredient. 

Tapping into this technology, they created a proprietary ingredient, Buntine Protein that delivers improved functionality and flavor from the lupin plant. They've also acquired a German manufacturing facility to process sweet lupin into this new game plant-based protein.

“The taste of lupin is normally pretty bitter. Our process pulls back the taste so it's easier to blend, easier to mix in because of the solubility and dilation, and tastes like nothing, which is the goal of any ingredient. We've spent the majority of our resources over the last 18 months trying to bring this from lab to commercial scale.” – Jay

Shifting To B2B With Buntine Protein® - A Better Plant-Based Protein

WOA is pitching Buntine Protein on its overall performance and taste. From a performance perspective, it offers better sialylation, solubility, dilation, and multiplication than the majority of plant-based ingredients currently available. It also performs better in terms of taste and texture, and eliminates the need to add other ingredients to compensate.

Not to mention it is a key pillar of regenerative systems, delivering real sustainability to a category that where that is increasingly coming into question.

Long-term, WOA is focused on growing demand and manufacturing economies of scale to give Buntine Protein an edge over soy (which Jay believes is possible given that lupins commodity prices are already below soy).  

“We’re reminding people that lupin protein is good for your sustainability. It works really well in a myriad of applications – helping manufacturers achieve better taste with less added junk. Couple that with our competitive price and we can compete with soy on a grand scale. We’ve got a good chance to break in right now because everyone is sort of rethinking what they’re doing.” – Jay 

50% Market Share 4 Regen

Wide Open Agriculture is proud of the local regenerative impact they’re having with Dirty Clean Food and aiming for global impact with Buntine Protein. Jay believes embracing collaboration over competition – especially with consumers – will move things incrementally forward. 

“We have to just go straight to the consumer and not worry too much about the infrastructure that exists. The only way the existing infrastructure is going to change is if [the food system multinationals] can make money doing it or they feel a threat of losing money from it. By changing what consumers expect and being thoughtful about what we’re doing, we can drive change.” – Jay

You can check out the full episode with Jay Albany @ Wide Open Agriculture HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober