On this episode, we have Jason Freeman who is the CEO of Farmer Direct Organic.
Farmer Direct Organic is supporting regenerative agriculture with its oats, beans, lentils, and pea products that are all certified organic with a growing selection transitioning to Regenerative Organic Certified®.
In this episode, we learn about the brand's journey from being the sales arm of a three-farmer Canadian Co-Op to a nationally distributed brand working with more than 60 organic farmers in Canada, the US, and Mexico. Jason gives a peak behind the curtain on organic grain production and how their brand is partnering with farms to transition acreage to Regenerative Organic Certified®.
🧑🌾 Starting out as a 3-farmer Canadian Co-Op
📈 Becoming a national brand sourcing from 60+ farmers in 3 countries
🏛️ How working on hemp policy reform led him to sell organic food
🚀 Building a business off of demand from Whole Foods’ bulk bins
😯 Why the Great Recession inspired their pivot to retail
😂 Jason saying no to Whole Foods and what changed his mind
💥 Exiting the brand as an employee, acquiring it, and then selling it
😡 The massive problems with organic fraud
💰 Supporting farmers transitioning to Regenerative Organic Certified®
😍 Their current ROC® SKUs and what is coming next
ReGen Brands Recap #47 - Building Regen Organic Grain Rotations - (RECAP LINK)
Disclaimer: This transcript was generated with AI and is not 100% accurate.
Kyle Krull - 00:00:15
Welcome to The ReGen Brands Podcast. This is a place for consumers, operators and investors to learn about the consumer brands, supporting regenerative agriculture and how they're changing the world. This is your host, Kyle, joined by my co-host ac who's going to take us into the episode.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:00:34
On this episode, we have Jason Freeman who is the CEO of Farmer Direct Organic Farmer Direct Organic is supporting regenerative agriculture with its oats, beans, lentils, and pea products that are all certified organic with a growing selection, transitioning to regenerative organic certified. In this episode, we learn about the brand's journey from being the sales arm of a three farmer Canadian co-op to a nationally distributed brand working with more than 60 organic farmers in Canada, the US and Mexico. Jason gives us a peek behind the curtain on all things organic grain production. Plus he shares how the brand is partnering with farms to help transition their acreage to regenerative Organic Certified. Jason truly gave us a behind the scenes look on this one and shared the very cool 20 year history behind FDO. We hope you enjoy it. Let's go. What's up everybody? Welcome back to another episode. Of The ReGen Brands Podcast.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:01:15
I am flying solo today but very fired up to have our friend Jason Freeman with us here from Farmer Direct Organic. So welcome Jason.
Jason Freeman - 00:01:39
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:01:41
Absolutely, man. I think, I think this is our first Canadian uh Canadian based brand uh on the region brands platform. So you get to wear that honor, that badge of honor today, man.
Jason Freeman - 00:01:52
Oh, right on. I should have my uh my uh my maple leaf t-shirt on or something like that. Well, that's, that's awesome, man.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:01:59
We can, we can throw up the flag behind you. Maybe, maybe our editor can handle, can handle helping us out with that or something.
Jason Freeman - 00:02:06
Right on. That'd be sweet.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:02:08
Well, to kick us off, bro, for those that aren't super familiar with the brand, just give us a quick overview. What is the brand? What do y'all make? What do y'all sell? Where can some people find you today?
Jason Freeman - 00:02:18
Ok. Farmer Direct Organic. We're 100% organic brand. We don't do natural or conventional um grains, all certified organic. Um so lentils, peas beans, um hemp. Um and uh we have an awesome line of Regen Organic, certified gluten free uh rolled oat products. So you can find us um in the bulk and a whole foods market. You can also find us uh on the shelf at Whole Foods market as we're doing a private label with them uh for Regen again, certified French green lentils and red split lentils. And uh yeah, that was really exciting and it's going well, um you know, just a little bit on that. Um It blew by their projections double. So they gave us what they thought was the annual volume and they doubled it. So that, that was fantastic.
Jason Freeman - 00:02:51
Uh You can find our branded products or £1 shelf packs, uh independent retailers, uh NNCG participating the national Coop grocery retailers uh and a, a bunch of um uh chains across the US. It's still a very natural uh foods uh uh uh channel, right? So we're not in the Walmart or the Kroger's or anything like that yet. Um But you can definitely should be able to find us in your natural, healthy local health food store if you can't ask for it. Uh We're actually the number one selling brand for um dried beans and the natural foods channel according to spins for the past uh two years running and yeah, thank you. Uh It's, I think it's really a response to our mission of organic in uh So like I said, uh previously, the brand is 100% organic. Um We only source from us and Canadian farmers.
Jason Freeman - 00:03:50
Um We started sourcing Chickpeas from Mexican farmers because uh we're not growing enough of the Chickpeas organically in the US or Canada. Um But we don't, we don't offshore anything that we can grow here. So, I mean, we don't purchase anything that we can grow in North America. I'm actually excited to reach out and start developing relationships with Mexican farmers because they have a really great organic scene down there. Um And um you know, uh we love to support uh Mexican organic family farms. Um Everything that we produce is traceable back to the family farm.
Jason Freeman - 00:04:18
So there's a lock code on the back of the bag, you can email us and uh we'll tell you where that that product came from. All our product is single origin. So if you purchase that bag of French green lentils from us, it comes from one farm. We don't mix lots and everything. Uh We uh we sell, we test for pesticides. So that's um that's uh again part of our uh organic integrity mission. Uh not all organic grants test or pesticides.
Jason Freeman - 00:04:50
Uh You know, we have direct relationships with our farmers, but still, um you know, you, you want to do the testing and also just to see what's going on on their farms. So like, you know, how much are their neighbors spraying? Are they starting to get drift? And so then we can tell our farmers, hey, you got, you had a bit of residue. Uh So talk to your neighbor, you know, ask them to, hey, don't, don't spray on windy days for example. And actually a lot of organic farmers are starting to reach out to their neighbors and because organics is where it's at, right. Now there's a lot more respect in the farming community for it.
Jason Freeman - 00:05:29
So there's, you know, some are, have, you know, good, uh success with their neighbors just educating about, you know, organics and what happens when their neighbors spray pesticides when it's too windy, uh, and things like that. Um, well, you, you must
Anthony Corsaro - 00:05:52
be an avid podcast listener because you just me up for about 20 for about 20 follow up things. So, you know, I, I appreciate that the, the, the origin story, you know, you were trying to talk about the farms and supporting the family farms and the origin story is, and I'll let you tell it is really there was a farmer co-op established or you help establish it, but just, just before we get too much into the brand, take us into that origin story and share kind of how, how the whole thing came
Jason Freeman - 00:06:22
about. Well, it all started uh literally back in 1994. So um I had a very, very good friend of mine that um got thrown in jail for six weeks for a blockade in a logging road. And this was, yeah, it is a crazy story. Um She uh she was up in uh one of those um tripods like uh they built a tripod pod uh in a, in a tree, right? So they couldn't cut the trees, you know, similar to Julia, but butterfly thing going on. And um she was up in that tree for, I don't know how many months. And it is, it is an interesting story at one point in time uh like this during the winter and it's just like damp and snowy and she's cold. And she's thinking to herself, I'm, I'm not gonna survive another night up here. Like I'm getting cold and every everything is wet. My sleeping bag is wet, my clothes are wet. Anyway, she was mad to fall asleep.
Jason Freeman - 00:07:12
She had this dream that there was a fire uh underneath uh her uh her uh platform, right? And she, and she woke up, she woke up in the morning and everything was dry. Her sleeping bag was dry, her clothes were dry. She was, yeah. So, you know, you know, it's like, you know, people believe in those things or not, right? You know, it's a story, right? You know, my friend trust her and um you know, stranger things that happen on this earth. But that was really interesting.
Jason Freeman - 00:07:41
Um And the, and the good news is that they actually saved that uh area of wilderness. Was this beautiful old water shed called the um and the really cool thing about it too, the forestry company got together with the indigenous um uh a nation up there that uh it's on their ancestral lands with and plus the government and the activists and they came up with a really good for use plan. And so the, yeah, it's a success story. The uh the watershed is still standing. Uh They're selectively logging it, which, you know, ii I absolutely approve on instead of just going and clear cutting it. They're taking like really high value love or making stuff out of it, you know, uh selling it for a lot more money, creating more jobs downstream and keep the poorest standing. So everyone was really happy about that.
Jason Freeman - 00:08:29
But, you know, she had to spend six weeks in jail, you know, for that to happen along with a few of her, you know, co conspirators. Um And uh um so, you know, that uh affected me a lot and a friend of mine said, well, you know, you can grow, uh you can make paper out of hemp. And so I was thinking to myself, oh, wow, that's amazing. You know, I don't have to cut down trees anymore. I was very young at this point in time, like 23 24 I quickly realized I didn't have the $150 million to build a hemp paper bill. And then I also realized that, yeah, I also realized that the technology wasn't really there to do that, but uh I still kind of got on that hemp train.
Jason Freeman - 00:09:12
Um started uh uh a hemp store, a new SM Hemp company with a bunch of guys to uh you know, kind of get that ball rolling. Um That's a story in itself. Uh We actually were the first people to advertise a vaporizer in High Times magazine that was back in 1994 1995. Um, we call it the vapor. We started manufacturing it ourselves. It was really cool. It was super low back but it was super cool.
Jason Freeman - 00:09:34
Um, and we started doing really well. We're selling like, you know, hundreds of units um, across the border. Americans really liked it. Well, you know, uh, vaping. Right. They took off. Right.
Jason Freeman - 00:09:50
as we know, problem was that, uh it was high season, it was Christmas and we're shipping the product across the border uh uh as a tobacco paraphernalia. Well, we don't know what happened, but we think someone, one of the border guards maybe got a hold of High Times magazine, saw our ad in High Times magazine and when I gave it this tobacco paraphernalia is cannas paraphernalia. And so they literally like stopped all their products at the border. I think we had like something like 500 or 1000 units that were stopped at the border and basically seized. So we're, you know, young company and what not that just, you know, the company. So, unfortunately, um uh you know, that didn't work out. But then a friend of mine said, hey, there's this guy that's trying to, uh he's got a small lobbying firm that's legalizing, trying to legalize him in Canada.
Jason Freeman - 00:10:43
So I went and met that guy got the job uh as a sales manager. And so from 1996 I'll get to the Farmer Direct story. This is, this is, I love it. Um So uh we uh this is an interesting story in itself. Um So from 1996 to 1998 I worked for the small um events and marketing lobbying for a firm called uh out of Vancouver Canada called Wiseman Noble Sales and marketing. And what we were doing is we were trying to lobby the, well, we were lobbying the government to legalize industrial hemp in Canada. And to do that, we had a really interesting strategy first, separate the issues. So we didn't talk about cannabis.
Jason Freeman - 00:11:24
This wasn't about cannabis, this is about industrial hemp. It's about farmers and tractors and planting seed and genetics and food and fiber and clothing. And so we separated the issues and we created a skeleton infrastructure for the industry uh which comprised of um quarterly trade journal called Commercial Hemp magazine, a bunch of regional trade shows and conferences and then a yearly uh national trade show and conference called the, the Commercial Industrial Hemp. And uh we did that for two years. It worked out really well. We got like sponsorship from a major Canadian Bank BC Ministry of Agriculture help Canada, which was the federal uh department um that oversaw hemp.
Jason Freeman - 00:12:05
Um And um after two years of lobbying and trade shows and magazines, the Canadian government legalized industrial hemp. So that at that point in time, the company's mandate was basically finished. So I was like, OK, well, we can grow hemp now. So I contact some of the farmers that had uh that had exhibited at our trade shows. And I said, and these organic farmers and I said, hey guys, because by, by that point time I, I wasn't, I was into organic food. I started eating organic food in 1995 because I was having various uh health issues from basically eating garbage before like food and stuff like that. So I clean up my act, start start to feel better. And I was like, man, this organic stuff is awesome.
Jason Freeman - 00:12:52
And so I talked to the farmers and said, well, hey, if you can come up with $40,000 down payment for this planting seed, we'll grow hemp for you. So I, I came up with that money somehow I got some stock brokers, believe it or not to provide us with that money. That's a whole crazy, crazy story too. And uh so we did that and formed a company called Bio. He was the first uh brand to have a line of certified organic hemp seed food. So we had oil, we had flour, we had roast roast hemp seeds. The first um brand actually come up with a skew like one skew of uh organic hemp foods.
Jason Freeman - 00:13:27
I think it was omega nutrition when they came up with their oil. Um But we are the first to actually come up with a full product line. So I started that in Vancouver in 1999 because all our processors and farmers were uh based in Saskatchewan. I moved out to Saskatchewan in uh May of 2000 in May of 2001. I sold that company and three of the farmers uh that we have been purchasing organic hemp seed from uh came to me and said, hey, we have like lentils and peas and things like that and wheat and you know, will you market that for us? And so I said, I said to them, if you guys uh form a cooperative, I'll manage your sales market, the logistics for you or a fixed percentage of sale. And they're like, yeah, that's OK. That's a good idea. We'll do that.
Jason Freeman - 00:14:17
So that was started in 2002 as farmer direct co-op started with three farmers. Uh by 2009, we had about 60 farmers in a co-op. But that's uh and our, our sole business, our only business was commodity sales like organic commodity sales. So we'd sell, say uh truck, truck loads of large green lentils, Amy's kitchen, we then make soup out of it. Um But in 2009, I when the financial collapse hit um uh the commodity markets, both conventional organic just completely, just went upside down. Uh demand, evaporated prices crashed.
Jason Freeman - 00:14:47
And so we, we were like, uh what are we gonna do now? And you know, the co-op was in debt. Um, and we didn't really have much money and we were like, well, we need to find more stable uh higher margin markets. So let's get into the retail. But because we had no, because we had no money. It's like, well, what can we do? And we're like, well, you know, we don't, don't have any money to develop products.
Jason Freeman - 00:15:26
Uh, we don't have any money for like, you know, an ad campaign with beautiful new packaging and whatnot. So let's get into the
Anthony Corsaro - 00:15:43
more expensive side of the business with way less money. I love that strategy, you know,
Jason Freeman - 00:15:47
totally, totally brilliant strategy, right? So we were like, what can we do? We're like, well, we can bag our grains and £25 bags for retailer ball pins and then we started thinking going, ok, if we're gonna do this, let's like, really do this. Um because something, something about farmer direct co-op, um which, you know, is not gonna really be perceptible from the outside. Uh is that, you know, it was really um a, a meeting of farmer and organic consumer. So of course, I was the organic consumer and meeting with the organic farmers and as a con organic consumer, I was always a little like thinking to myself, well, you know, why is an organic also fair? You know, so, you know, I go to the store and you can buy organic coffee, you can buy fair trade coffee, you can buy organic, fair trade coffee. And so thinking to myself, why can't people buy organic, fair trade lentils? You know, we, you know that the issues are a bit different but also the like between north and South uh global north and global south.
Jason Freeman - 00:16:48
But they're also very much the same being that, you know, you, you have a number of, of large companies that control most of the commodity trade, which really dictates the price of the farmers. Um And, you know, it's the same in, in North America and then North America had uh you know, the the added issue is that uh even on organic farms, there's a lot of issues of farm labor and rights of farm laborers, laborers and even with the farmers uh and the organic buyers, there's, you know, there's not necessarily fairness there. The contracts aren't necessarily fair and uh the products organic, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's fair. So we decided that, hey, we're, we're gonna get Domestic Fair Trade certified. We want to be the first national brand to be Domestic Fair Trade certified. So we went around and this is an interesting story too. So I went over to a trade show called Must have been about 2000 and, and uh I think I even started working on this before the financial collapse around seven or 2007, 2008.
Jason Freeman - 00:17:43
And we went to a meeting uh of fair trade labor organization. So they're the oldest fair trade, uh certification government body. And we went into the meeting all like, yeah, we're like, we're excited, I'm sure they're gonna be excited about like, you know, us like uh expanding fair trade to um to domestic farmers. So we got there, we talked to them and then, and they said to us, no, we're absolutely not interested, you know, stay away from a market, stay away from fair trade. And they said, you know, if you're gonna do it, whatever you do don't call it fair trade. You know, that's our name, right? And so, you know, I looked at that and I was like, OK, fair enough, right? You know, I'm gonna respect that because, um, you know, that's, that's what they want us to do.
Jason Freeman - 00:18:36
And um, you know, I'm not trying to uh be predatory, trying to cooperate with the community. And, you know, I looked at it and said, you know, what, maybe we should come up with our own thing anyway, right? Instead of just try to get certified from them. So we decided that, OK, we're gonna look for a group that's doing it like, right. And we came across a group called the Agricultural Justice Project, uh which had the domestic Fair trade standard, which is really robust. And the other thing about it too, which was really cool is that the agricultural justice project was uh owned and controlled by farmers and farm workers. So it was a standard. Yeah. Right. Exactly. Right. It's a standard.
Jason Freeman - 00:19:15
It was actually, uh, developed for the, by the very people it's supposed to help in a, uh, is a, uh, um, fair trade USA which basically completely co-opted. Uh, the fair trade label decided to make their own rules, uh, completely corporate run. Uh, even when their, uh, license holders get busted for, uh, violations, they do nothing unless there's a huge uh public backlash. Uh So like we, we want to do this properly. And so we uh about 2011, we got certified by um the agricultural justice Project and then we started going to the market with our £25 bags of the bins and our, our tagline, I'm really proud of this because I, I don't know if anyone is doing this yet and it was like as an organic consumer, I was like, this is the bomb that fun. I was like, this is the bomb. And so what, what our attributes were, we are 100% farmer owned. We are 100% domestic fair trade and we are 100% organic.
Jason Freeman - 00:20:25
And so I went out to the marketplace like this and um in 2013, we got a call from uh Whole Foods Market. Actually, I, I don't know if uh AOL Schweizer rings a bell. Um He was, yeah, so he's all over the place now on tons of boards and he's got an article uh in Forbes magazine. And uh so uh he uh AOL and his uh buying partner, Dwight Richman, who were uh basically head buyers for grocery at Whole Foods Market probably did more to launch new innovative ethical brands uh in North America than anyone that I know of that. The work they did was phenomenal. And so they, they reached out to us, this is another funny story. So reached out to say we're really interested in your product. We think what you're doing is great. So I totally blew him off.
Jason Freeman - 00:21:16
I was like, oh yeah, that whole foods, you know, it's just stupid, right? Like uh whole foods market, they're gonna like, just cannibalize us, you gonna destroy us, they're too big. And so you have
Anthony Corsaro - 00:21:39
Jason, did you have like good representation in the natural channel? And so you're just worried about like kind of playing with the big, with the big guy when you had like other mom and pops. Like, what was the concern
Jason Freeman - 00:21:50
we had next to nothing? And we had a few Canadian retailers. It was just not, it wasn't for you at the time. Yeah. Um And like, I fully acknowledged my supreme ignorance uh for, for that, right? It was, it's straight up stupid of me. And uh but through, through uh uh my hemp activism and work, um I met David Brawner, right? And um so I had to really show David Braner and uh he found out what went on and he basically reached out to me and said, hey, dude, like, what the fuck are you doing? Um They're really good. They're really good retailer. They've been really good to us, you know, hey, at Expo West this year, I want to introduce you to one of the board members. You can talk to them and this and that.
Jason Freeman - 00:22:31
So I met one of their board members and I talked to him and I heard David out and I was like, ok, I'm being unreasonable here. Great. So, well, so we started selling into Whole Foods Market. We're thinking, yeah, they're gonna buy, you know, two pallets a month or whatnot. It ended up turning into 5 to 7 truckloads a month of business. Wow. Wow. Yeah. And it was, uh and they, they were really good to us. They protected us.
Jason Freeman - 00:22:49
So, um what I mean by that is we had a whole foods market exclusive and what a whole foods market exclusive means is that when you ship to the United Natural Foods distribution to uh centers, whole Foods Market can only pick that product. The other retailers can't pick that product. Now, that may sound like AAA bad thing, right? But it was a good thing for us because we were fairly small and we were like, you know, just keeping up with managing to sell the whole Foods market to keep our rates up and Whole Foods Market all said to us, you know, there'll be a point in time where we can release the exclusive, right? So, um so that went really well, we're selling tons of them. The co-op literally went from like uh a million dollars in debt to a million dollars in profit and retained earnings.
Jason Freeman - 00:23:38
And so we are going really strong was the,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:23:53
was the supply there when that demand trigger happened or did you kind of have to scramble to add more farmers and bring people into the co-op or like, I mean, I'm sure it was, it was, you know, not all perfect but like what was the supply demand relationship in that growth period?
Jason Freeman - 00:24:08
Well, because we were shipping commodities. So truckloads of uh you know, say large green lentils or peas Jamie's kitchen, we, we had a, a decent supplier base like so we had 16 members, 60 members, 60. And so we were able to, to meet that demand and then plan for it, get more acres in. So that was pretty good. Actually, the the supply side worked out really well. Um And so, so in two, so this is uh 2013, we started selling the whole foods market. In 2016. I asked uh my board, I was the general manager and asked my board to um uh hire another general manager so I could just focus on sales because the exclusive, the exclusive relationship was about to end. We, we had a bunch of other retailers that were interested.
Jason Freeman - 00:24:44
Um I was literally like, literally about to hop on a plane and like go and pitch a bunch of retailers and start expanding the brand. Unfortunately, the uh general manager they hired uh was uh from the conventional industry and didn't know organics very well or CPG and we just clashed, right? Um You know, this is uh you know, just for example, for lunch, you would uh routinely come to uh to work with the mcdonald's at Red Bull and it's like, just not the right, you know, yeah, it's not the right fit and like, you know, it's trying to suggest to me you should, if you're going to be a GM of an organic fair trade coop, you start to maybe, you know, eat some of these things and what not. Yeah, he had health issues, he had health issues too, right? So, and um but, you know, I'm not, I'm not a counselor, I'm, I'm a bit of a brash entrepreneur. So, you know, I didn't communicate my concern for his health properly.
Jason Freeman - 00:25:44
And uh he said, ok, you know, I don't like you and I'm like, yeah, I don't like you either. And we're like, you know, so let's uh yeah, I've been here for 14 years, maybe it's time for me to leave and he's like, yeah, it's time for you to leave. And so I negotiated, you know, a fair severance package with the board um one thing I should mention uh to any entrepreneurs out there, whether you're for profit or nonprofit. Um I started something that I literally had no control of uh meaning no equity stake, no shares, right? It was Farmers co-op, there was no um employee uh shares. There is no or equity, there's no uh uh uh employee representative on the board. So, you know, just be careful, right? Because if you, if you do that and you create something, yeah.
Jason Freeman - 00:26:36
And you, you're gonna find yourself, um, uh, basically kicked out on the street. Um, because if you, if you build something which people like, don't wanna try to take it from you. Right? So, um, and you know, essentially that happened but whatever, no, no hard feelings. It was an amazing experience. Got to meet so many people got to learn to and this more than I ever thought I would learn about grain and supply chains and cleaning grain. That's another thing. Cleaning grain, right?
Jason Freeman - 00:27:13
When you go to the bulk bins or the retail shelf and you buy a bag of grain, the process that goes into cleaning it is just insane. It's easier if you're making soup or you're making flour or you can grind stuff up, but you're putting a product on the shelf, people were expecting it to be just as beautiful, right? You can have like wild oat in it or, and now with the, um, gluten free and gluten intolerance you know, like it's even more, more intense. Um, yeah, I, I just thought it was really interesting. So, it's a just so people, it's a dry process when we take grains, say um, you know, a bean or a peat or a lentil and it goes through um uh first aspiration. So you got air that puffs on to us, it takes all the light stuff off, like, you know, any, any dust or um chaff and then it goes into a gravity and not necessarily, you know, each clean plant will have it in different orders.
Jason Freeman - 00:28:10
Um And then it goes in a gravity table which are really interesting machines which basically sift uh the grains and say things that aren't grain, you can target a grain out um basically through gravity. And then you have your, your indents which do it by size. And then you have your color sorters which literally are electric eyes and they have channels and the grain goes down the channels individually, right? So if you can think of this machine with like say 10, 12 channels each for individual grains and the electric eye will look at that as the grain goes through its scanner and it's not targeted grain, it shoots a puff of air out and then pushes that out of the of the stream. Um And then uh also the last one that a lot of plants have now is x-ray machines. So the grain will go through the x-ray machine and anything that uh is metal or um gets um or is not like grain again, gets puffed out.
Jason Freeman - 00:29:05
Um Now for people concerned about like, oh, what about radiation? It's got like 1000 times uh less radiation than, than um the machine that your dentist has. So it's like super safe, it's uh organically certified these processes. So then, you know, that's just the whole green clean. Yeah. Take us to finish
Anthony Corsaro - 00:29:42
the story because there's a happy ending of you coming back, right? So you separate now you're back. So fill in the blanks there.
Jason Freeman - 00:29:49
So 2016 I leave um I get a decent severance package, you know, enough for me to go like after 14 years, I actually take a vacation. So I went down to the Caribbean. You know, I'm sitting there just literally with a drink in my hand next to the pool, right? Just loving life. And uh I get back to my hotel room. I started getting calls from farmers because of course the poor didn't really communicate why I left. The the members still have relationships with me and they're like, what the hell is going on? And this is the thing too about about farmers, if you're ever going to get into, in, into selling grain or vegetables or anything, the farmers really build the connection with the person that's selling their grain that's talking to them on the that's making the deal.
Jason Freeman - 00:30:24
So and, you know, not necessarily the company so that if people, and especially in organics, it's more niche, but personally, as a company and goes elsewhere, the farmers want to know where they went and they'll do business stuff again because, like, well, this guy was always, you know, he was straight up with me when there is issues, he was straight up with me. And that's a big thing too. Right. Sometimes there's issues. right? You know, there's quality issues, there's payment issues, there's, and so the the bottom line you're going to get into this with farmers, you have to communicate even bad news all the time, you know.
Jason Freeman - 00:31:01
So, um so I'm sitting there, farmers are phoning me emailing me what's going on and you know, so then I phoned up a friend of mine who also trades Gray. He's actually a former employee of ours. Um And he said, hey, I'm getting calls from these farmers, they want us to, to sell their grain still. And I said you want to form a uh form a, a grain selling company. And so he's like, yeah, let's do it. So we formed something called the Organic Trade Solutions. And so organic trade solution is still around today. Uh It sells uh organic commodities to food manufacturers. Um And so we were doing this for about two years.
Jason Freeman - 00:31:45
2018, we're buying crops from uh a lot of the farmers in the co-op too. Some farmers outside the co-op. Um And then in 2018, the board of Farmer Direct came to me and said, hey, uh the general manager, we hired this, the retail is way over his head. Um And you know, quite frankly, you know, it's way over our heads too. We just want to farm, grow the best grain in the world, sell it to a trusted company. So will you buy the brand off of us and keep purchasing our grain from us?
Jason Freeman - 00:32:14
So I said, ok, let's do it. So I bought the brand from them. Uh relaunch his farm and direct organic food in 2018. And so of course, our attributes change, we're no longer a farmer owns. So, but as an organic consumer, I was like, OK, there's a few other things that have popped up that, you know, organics isn't addressing that we need to address such as pesticide test and traceability. Because by that point in time in 2000 to 18, in the marketplace there, there is, you know, let's just, you know, I don't want to sugarcoat it.
Jason Freeman - 00:32:52
There is a tremendous amount of fraud, organic fraud you had uh people, especially in
Anthony Corsaro - 00:33:06
grains. I think that's probably where it's been the worst, right?
Jason Freeman - 00:33:09
Grains is absolutely horrible. Um There is this a Turkish company that basically, you know, some people that so there's a
Anthony Corsaro - 00:33:21
big Wall Street, there's a big Wall Street journal article about it, right? We can we can we can link to that in the show notes. What, why is it, why is the traceability such a challenge when they're, when it's imported versus like when it's domestic or is it the
Jason Freeman - 00:33:34
same? Um So a few things happened and both in uh import of fraud, domestic fraud, you know, it just comes down to the same thing is that the USDA and the Organic Organic Certification companies are taking it seriously. USDA did absolutely atrocious job at clamping down on fraud to the point where, um, the US G wasn't even enforcing the law. The, um, with the, when the, with the domestic fraud is actually your, your, um, your pro prosecution services. I think your federal prosecutors that said, hey, breaking the law, we're going to do something about it. So people probably, if they're milk organic, probably heard of that massive. Like, I think it was like something like 100 and $50 million corn and soy, uh, domestic fraud scam. It was that, uh, that, that farmer who committed suicide when he finally got busted. I don't even heard about that. Right. He finally got busted and, um, you know, committed suicide, which is really tragic.
Jason Freeman - 00:34:26
Um, but it, you know, it just goes to show that, um, you know, 95% of the people are honest, they follow the rules but you, you're always gonna have that 5% that are like, are you kidding me? You mean, I just have to take this grain and put in the organic bin and lie to my auditor and like, it's, it's good. So there was a company out of Turkey and what they were doing is literally they were importing uh conventional lentils from Saskatchewan in into it uh into Turkey. Uh cleaning it through their like, I wouldn't mean clean anymore like laundering, uh they the conventional through their facility and then selling as organic uh to the European market. And the reason they were caught was because some of these European companies started testing for Glyco and they started to find out that Glycate was through the roof. And so they started testing more and more.
Jason Freeman - 00:35:28
And then they basically found that, you know, this, this company was doing fraudulent activity. Uh, they got busted, they got their, uh, certification taken away. But I think for only three months it was suspended until they got another certified. And, uh, you know, they claim like this is a true story. They claim that, oh, we're really sorry. We messed up. Um, we thought that a was going to the conventional bin, but it is actually going to the organic bin.
Jason Freeman - 00:35:54
You know, so that's another thing too with like us being 100% organic company, we don't, um, dabble in conventional and national grains. So, you know, when grain comes into our warehouse, it's organic grain. There's no like no opportunity to co mingle. All of our farms are 100% organic. We don't, don't allow parallel production. Parallel production is when a farm will have some organic land, some conventional land and said they'll grow peas on both that land. Well, you know, the opportunity to co mingle even if it's an accident, right?
Jason Freeman - 00:36:29
And not straight up for just too much, right? So we really, particularly with the farmers that we purchased from. Um So, so, you know, 2008 fraud is an issue. Um I, I should note too that finally after like I know probably 10 years, probably longer because organic fraud has been happening for a while. The USDA finally starting to clamp down. They, they're getting harder on the imports.
Jason Freeman - 00:36:54
They're bringing back something called transaction certificates, which I think are really important, you know, they're paying the ass or for the buyers and the sellers of the brands, but they're really important because what the transaction certificate is every time a farmer sells grain, he has to send a transaction certificate to a certifies verifies that transaction transaction certificate and then sells it to the buyer or, or sends that certificate to buy. Now we can sell the product. But why is this important? It's important because the we'll look at the uh the farmers' organic audit from that year and go like, ok, well, that farmer put in 500 acres of peat. Ok. Well, we have transaction certificates for 10,000 metric tons of peat. There's no bloody way he grew 10,000 metric tons on 500 acres.
Jason Freeman - 00:37:48
So that's how they really clamped down on some of the more egregious fraud, you know, they're not gonna be able to clamp down, you know, if that farmer, you know, is desperate and he buys, you know, a few 100 bushels of conventional peas from his neighbor and blends that in. But that, that also is very, you know, stuff like that doesn't necessarily happen. And the reason too, and, and, and, um, for the conventional farmers, uh, you know, give kudos for this, but, you know, they know that's illegal. So if they, if their neighbor tries, organic neighbor tries to do that, they're not gonna be so comfortable participating. Um, and they're probably gonna out the, the, uh, organic farmer and there has been a lot of times where, um, uh conventional neighbors have called cert fires and say, I think there's funny business going on. But anyway, so that's so broad part.
Jason Freeman - 00:38:34
So in 2018, you know, as a cons organic consumer, acknowledging that there's issues with fraud and organics. Um, we, and because we're no longer farm own, it's like, ok, well, what are we gonna do? Right? How are we going to the brand? So we really tackle this. And so people know that, you know, they're actually eating organic food. So instead of being 100% farm own 100% organic and uh 100% domestic fair trade we're 100% organic 100% traceable back to the family farm, 100% pesticide tested.
Jason Freeman - 00:39:03
So all the grain that we purchased is test pesticides, chase them back to the family farm. So we have a number of levels to assure organic integrity. And um so it's worked out really well. Uh You know, I just mentioned
Anthony Corsaro - 00:39:33
the brand does all the processing and owns the infrastructure and the facility that does that or is there a farmer co-op that still does that? And the brand just buys raw materials from them or how, how's that set up?
Jason Freeman - 00:39:43
So, when we worked, uh, when we're a farmer co-op, we had uh, sea cleaners that we worked with. So organic certified sea cleaners. So third parties that we work with. And so we, we basically maintained the same supply chains, but with the, the added benefit is that, um, we've added our own infrastructure now. So we have our own warehousing. We have our own packing. Uh, we have our own boat rolling and, uh, oat milling. So, but to your point, that's where you want to get to if I was to ever do this, uh, differently again from scratch. Yeah, you know, do a scratch. Uh, you know, assuming that I'd be able to raise the capital, which is a whole other issue.
Jason Freeman - 00:40:09
I would, uh, build the cleaning facility and the packing facility and, you know, have all of that under one roof, you know, as a, a vertically integrated um uh brand and process
Anthony Corsaro - 00:40:38
just, just so people have an idea how much million per million dollars of sales would that, you know, would that facility need to be like a $5 million facility for $50 million a year in annual revenue? Like, just give us a ballpark number or
Jason Freeman - 00:40:50
something. Yeah. Nowadays if we want to do it really well, including like oat rolling um and some, you know, you, you can spend 10 $20 million on a bill, just probably spend more. If you wanted to, you can
Anthony Corsaro - 00:41:03
scale that to how much to how much annual revenue if, if you spent 20 million.
Jason Freeman - 00:41:08
Yeah, if you spent 20 million, you probably should be able to do about 200 million a year in annual revenue.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:41:13
That, that makes sense to me.
Jason Freeman - 00:41:15
Yeah. Um so um yeah, and so it's 2018. Um that was an interesting time too because, um you know, the farmers ran into trouble. They uh this, it's really interesting. Um anyone who's has a brand or aspiring to have a brand don't do this. So what uh what the GM that they hired started doing when their uh sales started to falter because they just weren't, it's very sophisticated marketplace, you have to keep up with it. It's not easy, right? So if you just a parachute into it from like, and what this, what he was doing before farmer direct co-op he was literally at a a large inland terminal uh negotiating with farmers about their GMO canola, which uh you know, people are just from them, elevate it, throw it into a rail car and ship it out, right?
Anthony Corsaro - 00:42:07
Super transfer to a niche organic brand. Sounds like,
Jason Freeman - 00:42:10
yeah, exactly. Not at all. And so when sales starts faltering, what did he do or sales are faltering, we need to uh generate more revenue. Ok. let's raise our prices. So, you know, at a certain point in time, Whole Foods Market, their biggest client was going like, no, we're not gonna buy from you anymore. This is ridiculous. So the, so the brand was in trouble when we purchased it. So the first thing we did, uh was, we uh went down Whole Foods Market office, had a meeting and I was like, ok, you know what uh hey guys, how's it, how's it doing? You remember me, right? And they remember me from before, you know, glad to have you back. I'm like, ok, what can we do here? What can we salvage here? You know, what can we salvage?
Jason Freeman - 00:42:42
And so, you know, we got back on track with whole food market and that was good and it kind of, you know, save the brand. So that's 2018 and then uh ran the ground for three years and then I was, I was just going like, man, like if we want to because we're still in the same situation. Everything we had was, um, you know, we had a, we had a warehouse and we were bagging our products in £25 bags, £1 shelf packs. But we didn't have any oat rolling. We didn't have any cleaning. Um, we could, could use more capital and, you know, I was just looking at, they say it's gonna take us decades before we're able to raise the money to actually build our own mill. So I, so that's when we started to look to, to sell the company.
Jason Freeman - 00:43:19
So we're looking around the sell of the company. And then um thankfully, this Saskatchewan based uh grain trader, you know, much more larger company came on and said, we love what you guys are doing. We think organics is gonna be the future of agriculture. There's a lot we can learn from it. We're trying to get our conventional farmers to reduce their pesticide use of fertilized, use their, their fuel use. Um You know, and, and some of them are starting to adopt uh some practice practices from organic like crop rotation.
Jason Freeman - 00:43:48
And so, you know, we negotiate with them. One of the things I had negotiations because I was like, OK, we sell the company, what's gonna happen. So, so 2001 sold the company part of the, the uh the contract is, and like, you know, over time you can't really enforce these things, but you wanna know who you're dealing with and I put in the contract, you're not gonna dilute the brand. It's always gonna stay 100% organic. They, they agree to that and the really cool thing is, yeah, it's huge, right? It's huge because it's so easy to go like, ok, great. We're gonna take this brand. It's organic man. Let let's bring in the premium or the natural grains.
Jason Freeman - 00:44:26
We're gonna literally make 30% more margin. You guys, let's do it right. And so that's why they do it. Um But uh um not only do they support organic when hopefully market came to us and said, hey, have you guys heard of Regen Organic Certification? We're really interested. I'm like, uh no, I haven't but I looked into it and I was like, well, this is really cool and they're like, if you can get some of your farmers certified, we'll like buy products from them.
Jason Freeman - 00:45:04
So that's how we got the private labels with uh whole foods market. Um So not only did they, uh uh the company is called above food. Not only did they um have they honored uh the organic integrity to this point? They even invested substantially into Roc uh Regenerate certification. So we get up and running so we could uh develop a farmer pool for that. So that was really great, you know, so far, so far, so good.
Jason Freeman - 00:45:26
Um You know, talk
Anthony Corsaro - 00:45:40
more about exactly what that means. Jason, because The ReGen Brands Podcast. We're talking about regenerative. Now, we're talking about RFC. So let's, let's, let's dive a little bit deeper there, right? Like, give us a little more color on how that came about. Sounds like Whole foods kind of brought it, brought it to you. I'm sure you talked to David and the whole kind of Ro a Elizabeth kind of crew. Um did, did the company that now owns the brand kind of sponsor some of the farmer certification fees? Did they help with technical assistance? Like, just, just walk us through the whole
Jason Freeman - 00:46:07
process? Well, you nailed the, you nail it on the head right there. So, you know, I, I went, went back to my board and I was like, look, you know, if we're gonna do this, you know, it's a new certification. So the farmers are going to want a number of things. And so I think we should offer that. We're gonna pay for the certification. So what we said to the farm is that we'll pay for the certification upfront. Ok. And then if you have a crop failure, you don't owe us the certification fees. But when you have a crop, then we'll take, take the certification fee off of like our payment to you.
Jason Freeman - 00:46:27
The farmers are fine with that because they're like, ok, well, you're taking all the risk on the certification fee and they're, they're getting a significant premium uh on uh on those products. So the first year that we did. It was awesome. And from the farmers' perspective because, um, the prevailing price for, uh, organic oats was about six bucks a bushel. You can maybe get 7 58 bucks a bushel if you had a gluten free status. So, for the Roc, we are not really strong to incentivize the farmers and we're like 12 bucks a bush or you guys. So like literally double. Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, that was like 12 bucks a bushel.
Jason Freeman - 00:47:03
And uh we'll give you a bit of a premium if you can hit gluten free status, not a huge premium, 25 cents a bush, but, you know, it's premium nonetheless. And so we had a lot of uptake, obviously, the bar was like, yeah, damn straight. We're gonna go through this. Um And so the, you know, we, we covered that. We also uh hired a consultant, um uh awesome woman named Marian mcbride who's actually an organic farmer and she was the founding president of Transcanada um uh organic Certification, which was a shoot off um Ooto CIA International, which I, you know, I don't know if your uh podcast listeners will, you know, understand those acronyms. But uh if you do um gives a bit more color to the story, but she uh amazing woman.
Jason Freeman - 00:48:02
Um she accomplished a lot of things in her life and she helped uh our farmers with the uh um the agricultural justice product, domestic uh fair Trade certification back in the day when we were a farmer co-op. So uh so she provided the technical support for farmers transition uh to ROC from organic. So we provided that um we had the other staff members who uh you know, uh allocated resources, just really focus on getting that pool of farmers together and running it.
Anthony Corsaro - 00:48:41
Jason, what percentage of the farmers would you say are really already, Roc? They just need to be certified versus they would have to add or change certain parts of their operation. Like what percentage of the sourcing pool is like ready? Just need certs versus like we'd have to work with them on the technical side a little bit.
Jason Freeman - 00:48:58
Most of our farmers, especially in Canada are very, very near Roc certification. Um So the only things that many of them needed um were um contracts with their farm labor and um some of them had to add a few more cover crops to their rotation. But in speaking with them, it was great for them too because they realized that they needed to, you know, to um increase their fertility. The thing
Anthony Corsaro - 00:49:31
that they're already doing is they're already rotating a ton of, of, of crops, right? They're probably already cover cropping or cover cropping somewhat. You mentioned that are most of them, I'm assuming most of them are limited till, right? Or no till because it's organic. So I'm assuming there's some tillage but just give us a, give us a flavor for, for what the average farmer y'all source from is doing.
Jason Freeman - 00:49:51
Yeah. So they're doing a lot of rotation, obviously. Um The standard rotation on the Prairies is you have a and not in any particular order, the farmer will figure this out themselves, but you have an oral seed like a hamper of flax or a mustard seed. Um You have a, a cereal grain like an oat sava or wheat. Uh you have a crop. Um So this, that would be the rotation. So like say four year rotation, this is what would go through in one field, right? So first they start with the oil seed, then the cereal crop and the legume crop and then a plow down crop. So cloer or um and then uh a few things about ROC certification is um uh soil testing is mandatory. So under organics, there's no soil testing.
Jason Freeman - 00:50:16
So I really like that because um we're getting to the age of, of more data for organics. So after about 10 years time, we'll be able to go back to the farmers or even five years and say, OK, well, you know, this is uh you know what soil tests are saying regarding soil. Um and you know, which may explain if their yields are low or may explain if the yields are really high, right? Doing the right thing. Yeah, it should be,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:50:58
it should be of service to the farmer just as it's of service to the consumer, right? And like, you know, the verification process of the
Jason Freeman - 00:51:04
certification. Absolutely. Um There's no parallel production allowed, there's still parallel production allowed under the NOP uh when you get into things like animal husbandry, they have really strict rules which I think are brilliant. So for example, Roc has, and we, you know, some of our farmers have uh livestock and grain. I was
Anthony Corsaro - 00:51:25
about to say, I'm assuming most of them can't but do some of them, do some of them integrate.
Jason Freeman - 00:51:30
Well, this is the tragic part of it. Um Most of say, I'd say it in, back in the day, a majority of farmers on the prairies had livestock and grain for obvious reasons, right? The, you know, livestock is absolutely, you know, there's another thing about the whole debate about like cows, cows are bad, right? So we say it's not, it's not the, it's not the cow, it's the how there is no single better way to produce soil and therefore get that carbon that's near back into the soil cycle then. Uh that manure,
Anthony Corsaro - 00:52:09
it's like it's either synthetic or natural fertility, but why, why would natural, not be better? Right.
Jason Freeman - 00:52:16
So totally the issue with cows, of course, is the feed loss system and the industrial system that we put them in. So, and you know, and this is probably for another podcast with somebody else. Much more knowledgeable than me. But what the US and Canada desperately needs it needs a, uh, a system of a locally, uh appropriately scaled slaughter and packing facilities for uh pasture based agriculture. Right. Because, right. Yeah, right now, like in Canada, it's brutal man. But there's uh Alberta plants, 5000 head of cattle go through there a day. You know, it sucks up all the supply at the same time every time they have a hiccup e coli or whatever. So they have to shut down the plant.
Jason Freeman - 00:52:47
It just destroys the whole supply chain, the price collapse. Farmers can't bring their uh cows to market and because of the roller coaster of the whole cattle markets, um A lot of farmers just got out, they couldn't, they couldn't afford, right? So there goes your fertility, right? So, um but one of the things that the roroc does, which is great is that uh I just think it's uh a brilliant standard is that they restrict the genetics you can use on raising animals. So, for example, one of the big issues in poultry is that they've bred these uh these, I suppose, say pigs, they bred these chickens so much that, you know, everyone's seen the, the pictures of the chickens that they can't stand on their legs because their breath is so large, right? Totally inhumane. Under uh Roc, you can't use those breeds. You have to have breeds that, you know, grow appropriately, you know, to the genetics of the, of the animal, things like that. Uh under uh US DNOP.
Jason Freeman - 00:53:48
There really is not much of anything in regarding farmers or farm worker rights. Um Roc has some of that. Uh for example, um all our farmers uh had to create uh contracts for the farm workers, which is really great, right? The, you know, the exploitation in Canada on grain farms and in the US on grain farms is, you know, it's very low versus say fruit or vegetable farms. You have a lot less um uh uh farms, farm employees. Uh A lot of them are uh you know, neighbors, for example, uh something you probably have a lot
Anthony Corsaro - 00:54:37
less like H two A and like immigrant workforce, right? That it is easier to, to exploit unfortunately,
Jason Freeman - 00:54:43
totally. But it's still important to bring those standards in uh to signal to the rest of organics that, hey, you know, it's not acceptable if your organic vegetables are being harvested by people being exploited, you know, it's like, come on. All right. So, so for all those reasons, um we were like Roc and we felt that Roc was kind of like bringing organics back to, you know, uh 2002 organic standard before Congress
Anthony Corsaro - 00:55:12
back. It was supposed to be like what, what it's really supposed to stand for and the, the standard it's supposed to set.
Jason Freeman - 00:55:19
Yeah. So, and that's why we wanted to get that well, wanted to get into Roc for those two reasons when we had demand for major and two, we felt it was the right thing to do for our brand. And you really, you have since
Anthony Corsaro - 00:55:30
launched some of those skews with Whole Foods. Like what are all the Ro CS skews that are like out in the market right
Jason Freeman - 00:55:34
now? So if you want to purchase Roc from Whole Foods Market, go their bulk bins and get any of the uh um the, the rollouts that are in the ball. So um we're uh we are hos market exclusive um uh seller of uh B be oats to them. So, um you know, you can check the tag. It should say there should, it should say farmer direct on the tag. So all of those oats in whole Foods market, bulk bins, they're Roc and uh you can also get the Whole Foods Market private label, uh French green Lentils and Red Split Lentils. So those are Roc certified. Um We're, we're launching a Farmer direct branded uh Roc gluten-free packaged oats uh in January. So you'll be able to get those in um uh participating natural product retailers. NCG Independence, your info retailers.
Jason Freeman - 00:56:15
Uh not whole who's market though because um market has a rule that if you're, if you sell them a private label, you can't sell your branded into them. So, um which we didn't know because we were selling branded in the whole foods market and then they, they, they pulled us. So we're like, well, what's going on? Oh, we have this policy in like, ok, great. That thanks for telling us. But, you know, we weren't that angry or upset because like another, you know, tidbit for um CPG entrepreneurs is private label, private label all day long. Private label is awesome.
Jason Freeman - 00:56:56
Um You know, at least all of these market, you know, you, you uh uh come to a price, you deliver it, they pay you that price if you have branded product and it's a guaranteed sale. If you have branded product, it's just a slotting, you know, so then you have to, you know, there's promotional discounts and there's this and there's that and like, so the the margin for private label is probably better. I I think that
Anthony Corsaro - 00:57:32
it's a huge opportunity for Regina brands is to offset cash flows through private label. I mean, like that's nothing new. Like there's a lot of good brands that do that. But also if you have some exclusivity in your supply chain, not even necessarily owning it or fully verbally integrated, but like a really high trust, like high touch relationship, like what you have, like, it really allows you to maximize the return for yourself. But also the farmers, if you can kind of control the knobs of brand it, private label ingredient sales, right? And like that's really how you can maximize, I think the return for everybody which, which we have to do
Jason Freeman - 00:58:06
do and then you use that. That's straight up truth, right. There. It's uh and for us that, you know, we actually care about the farmers. Um you know, a lot of it is about like what price do we need to get them? Like, so what's, what's a fair price that in corporate corporate, the cost of production plus a result profit margin? You know, because, you know, I I mentioned this to some of our farmers and some of, you know, the people that we do business with in our staff, it's like, you know, I want to be doing business with that farmer, son or daughter in 20 years. Right. I don't, you know, I actually, I really don't want to be doing the same thing in 20 years. We'll see, you know, I want to elevate it a bit. Right.
Jason Freeman - 00:58:39
But, but the general general concept is that, uh, you know, I want to be training someone who's buying grain from that farmer, that son or daughter. Um, so, and you just like, you know, I'm just kind of, you know, being a little facetious there but, um, it, it is pretty punishing. Um, you know, it's, it's, it's a, it's a difficult job, um, uh, brought with all sorts of issues, like just for example, dockage, right? I, I expressed before about the cleaning, right? And how, uh, you know, the science of the machines that clean grain, you know, oftentimes, you know, uh, product goes in, it gets over clean, there's too much clean out farmers pissed. Right.
Jason Freeman - 00:59:16
You know, the, the, uh, the plant, uh, you know, doesn't, it is what it is and not really taking too much responsibility for it where the farmer said in a lot, you know, had more do in his representative sample. There are so many moving parts to this that it's like, you know, it's, it's, it, it, you know, it can be punishing, um, you know, but at the same time, you know, the harder something is the uh more foundational, the relationships are that you build 100%
Anthony Corsaro - 00:59:56
and I, I can totally relate to that coming up in the fresh produce world. And, you know, our business has been around damn near 100 years at this point. And all those relationships like I'm selling, when before I left, I was selling to the next generation, right? Who is now running the store, running the produce department or whatever and you got to communicate about the bad just as much about the good um so good, good segue into the next generation. You know, the future, what, what does the future hold more RC SKU S more, you know, more bulk business, more infrastructure build out, you know, what's, what's the vision that you're cooking up with the, with the new ownership group?
Jason Freeman - 01:00:34
So, um ideally at a certain point in time, we can uh transition our whole product line in Roc. So, you know, one day I'd like to see that everything we at least brand is Roc and private labels, Roc. Um I think that's possible. Uh We're already there with our oats on the special crops. It's a bit more challenging. Um We are actually uh a victim of our own success. Um Because what happened was that um our farmers up here just grow. Oh, it's like nobody's business huge yields. So they probably out yield, say uh uh A L hold by 5 to 1. So it's just really easy for them to grow. And the price was so high that the farmers are like, well, you know, lentils are kind of, you know, they're difficult to grow.
Jason Freeman - 01:01:11
And so I'm just gonna, you know, put uh some clover in or uh uh uh plow down green manure crop instead of putting my lentils in. And so we had tons of oats, Roc Os. But that then, you know, the, the supply of the Roc Legum started to dry up a little bit. So I had to go back to the farm and say, hey guys, like, you know, what can we do here? And of course, like, well, if you want us to go Roc left, he's gotta pay us more. So, right in the process of negotiating what that is. Um the, the good thing is that um at least a preliminary indication is that the market will pay that.
Jason Freeman - 01:01:48
And so, you know, that's, it's all both for me too. It's like the work that organic farmers are doing is so tremendously important, you know, not only are they bringing airborne carbon and nitrogen, you know, taking these greenhouse gasses, uh, out of the atmosphere and they're putting it back in the soil cycle. Um, but they're also, you know, they're not spraying the toxic chemicals, you know. And, um, I think it was, it, was it the environmental working group? I think they did a study, they basically found out it was something like 95% of Americans that round up in the urine, you know, you know, they didn't know the study and I think Quebec about pregnant women the same thing. So it's like, you know, this is getting, yeah. And so these are the farmers that uh are basically cleansing the system of these toxins. So, you know, it's important to support them.
Jason Freeman - 01:02:39
Um, you know, it's so it's my job as a, you know, food company and marketer to, to uh to, to, to brand that so that consumers know what to support essentially.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:03:04
And that's a really interesting challenge, right? Of like we have to maintain that rotation of cereal, lentil lagoon and cereal. The cereal is probably always gonna be worth more. So how do you do that? How do you work with the farmers? How do you, how do you tell the retailers that, how do you tell that story to a consumer? Do you not even do all that? And do you just kind of work through it all on the back end. You know, like that's, that's a huge piece that I'm sure we could spend a whole, you know, a whole hour on, in itself.
Jason Freeman - 01:03:28
Oh, yeah, for sure. Um, the great thing is I find though that when you do, uh, you know, can effectively communicate your attributes to organic consumers that they will support you and, you know, because, you know, it's so before 2002, you know, you had an organic consumer base. Um you know, like me starting organics in 95 after 2002, it really grew. Um you know, now we're looking at, you know, 20 years after the uh nop, so you have a lot of educated organic consumers that are like, yeah, OK, we kind of understand issues with fraud. We kind of understand, you know, issues with pesticide residue and, and, and pollution in the environment. We kind of understand soil fertility and how that relates to uh nutritional density of food. So that's another thing that, you know, we haven't talked about or isn't necessarily talk about that much in organic
Anthony Corsaro - 01:04:21
and that's the unlock, right? So we think we've done a good job of this food's chemical free. So it's healthy, we have to get to the whole regenerative piece of here's why the soil matter matters for nutrition and why that should matter to you as the consumer, which we haven't done at scale yet in my opinion.
Jason Freeman - 01:04:37
Do you want me to break that down? Like uh sometimes I explain this to people because they're like, well, you know what, what is it like? So, so in very, very basic terms, um plans will take sunlight photos photosynthesis, turn turn that into sugar. The sugars travel down their vascular system to their roots and they um the uh and then the the root system provides uh the micro organisms in the soil with the sugar in exchange for vitamins and minerals and vitamins are just what we call soil born vitamins. So, photosynthesis plant creates sugar exchanges that sugar for nutrients with the microorganisms. That synergistic relationship is really important. And what happens when you use uh synthetic fertilizer, synthetic of fertilizer. Those that fertilizer goes straight to the roots and it cuts out that relationship between the microorganisms and the plant roots. So the microorganisms for that and other reasons kind of die off, right. So when, when the microorganisms, the soil start to die off, there's nothing transferring those micronutrients.
Jason Freeman - 01:05:35
So the the vitamins and minerals, the plant. So that's why you'll have like when you conventionally farm, you'll have plants that are like super high in protein because they have the nitrogen fertilizer, but there's no micronutrients, there's no minerals and there and there's no vitamins in the plant. Meanwhile, an organic plant because if you're doing it properly, the farmer is doing it properly, there'll be a robust community of microorganisms to exchange those um nutrients with the plant. And so that's why organic uh food has been tested by the USDA, by a lot of people that have higher amounts of micronutrients than conventional farm food. Um, if from the USDA numbers too, since the 19 fifties, we've lost a tremendous amount of micronutrients in our food. So, like farm food and, you know, the other thing too is like, I'm waiting for consumers is to say I've had enough.
Jason Freeman - 01:06:43
So like, you know, I think it was about four weeks ago, went to the grocery store and um you know, there's some strawberries there and uh it was from a company that you, you know, they do like, you know, dr right? They have their conventional skew and they have their organic skew. Well, I used to sometimes occasionally buy the organic skew and I was like, why am I doing this? This tastes like cardboard. It's fucking garbage, right on the, the conventional end of things. Like I have never tasted a conventional strawberry in the store that tastes like anything. So why are people still buying this garbage? And who's the first retailers actually gonna come in and say, you know what? We have AAA minimal brick standard for all fruits and vegetables.
Jason Freeman - 01:07:18
So, you know, if you're send, send us your, your garbage industrially farms. Um Strawberries that are like, you know, three bricks, you know, we don't want them, you have to hit 10 bricks, the issue with that though is that, you know, everything's so industrial nowadays that where's that supply gonna come from? And my answer to that is, you know, you, you have to give the farmers a little bit of a chance, right? But the retailers actually like, no, we won't, don't, don't want this crap. And like, hey, Scots, if you can hit 10 bricks will take your strawberries all day long. But they're not gonna be able to, because you're gonna have to change their whole production system to do that. And they're also one of the companies too that totally jumped on board.
Jason Freeman - 01:08:07
The um, oh, you do organ uh Hydroponics is allowed in organics now. Oh, great. Ok. Let's start hydroponically. Um, I think they do blueberries crazy now, hydroponically. Um,
Anthony Corsaro - 01:08:33
they're, they're doing all kinds of stuff. Um, I, I've sold a lot of strawberries brother and I gotta tell you that they're usually one of the better ones from a bricks perspective. So I'd push back a little bit on them specifically. Um, but across the board, you're very correct that, you know, the, the nutrient density has clearly gone down, the flavor has clearly gone down across the board, especially in the fresh departments. You know, I think, I think the biggest thing for consumers that it's, it, it's a really good mirage. Right. We go in the store right now and all these things are still. So there's just a ton of product. It's all really cheap and super available and we've, we, we've, we've optimized for, for appearance across the board a lot. So it all kind of looks really good. So it just like, doesn't really make sense and like the pain is not really there yet.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:09:06
So, I don't know, I don't know how we create that or, you know, do we just create the alternative? That's so much better. Like, that's, that's kind of what I'm, what I'm following.
Jason Freeman - 01:09:26
I think uh I think one retailer has to do with what they did back in the day with organics. Right? When they still do now they have like an organic organic section, right? Little phone organic section. They need to create a section in their store that is 100% just on uh uh nutritional testing, right? You know, let's just bricks, whatever we want. And like if you hit, that doesn't matter if it's conventional biodynamic organic Roc, you hit a certain bricks level, that's where you go. Um Now, of course, you're gonna find out that, you know, the companies that hit the bricks level, of course, are, are, you know, sourcing roc organic or biodynamic or whatnot right. Now, you know, you have a really good conventional farmer that's managing their soil really well and it's, it's picked in season and it's somewhat local then. Yeah, you're probably gonna see um decent bricks.
Jason Freeman - 01:10:02
Um I think in Canada too we have the issue that um I I could be wrong. You could tell me this because I'm not in produce. I just think the US gets better produce than us, like, you know, so, so it has to travel farther from Canada. And what I, what I realized too, living in Regina Saskatchewan is that, um, it's, our, our quality of produce is even worse. I'm trying to turn this off. So, yeah, you're fine.
Jason Freeman - 01:10:30
Anthony Corsaro - 01:10:44
yeah, I, I think that's purely AAA travel issue. Having, you know, having sent a lot of produce across the Center Midwest that still has to travel a decent ways from Florida, California or Mexico because that's where we source the majority of stuff or further south. You just, you just had a geographical challenge there, right? Um I think that's the biggest issue with that one.
Jason Freeman - 01:11:05
Yeah. So because I did notice that the protest in Saskatchewan is worse than the protest in Vancouver. And you know, Vancouver has more local growers too and, you know, when things are in season though, it's better. But, you know, it's just like you said, where, where's the uh when are people going to like wake up and go like, well, why am I, why am I spending like whatever, $8 on a quart of strawberries? They don't taste like anything. It's because they look really nice, but it's also the power of marketing. It's the power of perception, right? People look at that strawberry, it looks so beautiful that it actually probably tastes better to them than it really should taste. So, but, but as people wake up and start demanding more nutrient dense food, um that will change. And so yeah, that would be my suggestion to just one real retailer out there.
Jason Freeman - 01:11:35
Just try that, try to, you know, create us a nutritional standard baseline and, and just have a little space in your store and see if uh the, the agricultural supply base can fill that up. Yeah,
Anthony Corsaro - 01:11:57
it's a good, it's a good segue into our final question and you know, one last thing just to button it up is like the most recent generations. They might not even even know what a good strawberry tastes like. Anyway. So we, we maybe have even lost kind of like the the litmus test of what we should be applying it to, right? Um But to take us home, Jason, this has been super fun. Last question that we ask everybody is and I think you just answered it. Um But how do we get Regen brands to have 50% market share by 2050? What do we need to do? It's a, it's a loaded one.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:12:21
So take, take, take a couple of breast with it if you need
Jason Freeman - 01:12:34
to. Yeah. So one of the issues with that is um you know, you're gonna have to build the infrastructure for it. So you're either gonna have to build the infrastructure for all, all the, you know, different food products that arrive on the shelf or you're gonna have to find space with the existing infrastructure. So that's two things, right? You need the infrastructure. Um And the, the uh the main one is, it's, it has to be driven by consumer demand. Consumers absolutely have to demand it if consumers demand it. Um I talked to uh for example, I talked to a young uh conventional farmer.
Jason Freeman - 01:12:53
He's out in Manitoba and he said to me, look, we're, we're innovative man. We can do anything. You guys want us to grow organic, we can grow organic. But the thing is we just need to know that market's there, the markets there will do it. So there's already a lot of tension in the conventional agriculture industry between the input suppliers and the farmers. Uh for example, nitrogen fertilizer went up 400% last season, like four went, went up 400%. But it's just crazy.
Jason Freeman - 01:13:20
So, you know, the farmers are looking at ways to reduce that. Um So yeah, that's, you know, consumers really need to drive the change and consumers have to push their retailers to drive that change to um make. Um it's a cutthroat industry. So the retailers need to cultivate um this nascent industry by, you know, um you know, basically cutting them, cutting a little bit of slack, right? Um So that's, you know, consumer, consumer, consumer drive that demand and it will change.
Anthony Corsaro - 01:14:10
Yeah. And I, when I heard of that answer was every single part of the supply chain, right? Working together better the consumer spurring AAA difference. And then I heard farmer, I heard middle supply chain infrastructure, I heard distributor retailer, I heard brand and I heard consumer that that's, that's everybody. And really, you know, we need, we need intervention at all of those and we need them like all together at the same time versus like trying to make one happen versus the other. Like it has to all kind of happen at once, which I think is, is the big challenge um on all the sides, especially on the capital side because it's like really hard to tell that story to those capital providers now. Like we need, we need the whole thing all at once
Jason Freeman - 01:14:50
and we need and and you know, to encapsulate that, what is that? It's a cultural change. Ok. And what is that cultural change? We have to stop looking at food as drug because we really do, right? All the refined sugar and flowers like you know, people eat for emotional reasons, you know, sugar, sugar gets you high, you know, sugar is, is a drug, right? Just, just because it's been around so long. We're like, oh what's a little bit of sugar? It's a drug. It works. Refined sugar works on your body physiologically like any drug does, ok? It hits your brain centers which release like pleasure hormones, right? And so people really, like, don't necessarily look at that food as something that you get your nutrients from.
Jason Freeman - 01:15:19
They're looking at food as something that's pleasurable. It's almost like, you know, it's drug like that needs to change because people are sick. You know, it's obvious, you know, people are very sick. Um, the, the levels of chronic disease in our society are crazy and it's really, for two reasons, one is the food we're eating and, uh our sedentary lifestyles, there's def definitely an emotional component to food. Ok? Um But you know, the physical components are sedentary lifestyle and um and, and all the all it's our food is a nutrient deplete. So culturally, we need to demand more.
Jason Freeman - 01:16:02
Culturally, we actually need to start eating food because it heals us and it makes us grow and it satiates the body what it needs for nutrients. So once we get to that cultural shift, then I think we'll start to see real change because people will, you know, they'll make decisions based on uh different parameters and just like, well, you know, you throw a bunch of sugar and this people are gonna eat it, you know, with your culture even in the organic. Yeah, even the organic, right? Yeah, they agriculture and totally. So
Anthony Corsaro - 01:16:49
that's a good place to wrap it, man. I appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.
Jason Freeman - 01:16:53
Yeah, it was awesome being here. Thanks for the invite is it is really fun
Anthony Corsaro - 01:17:00
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