General Mills reinvents cereal plan after crop failure of eco-friendly grain

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cascadian Farms is making a limited amount of its Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal available to consumers. Pic: General Mills
Cascadian Farms is making a limited amount of its Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal available to consumers. Pic: General Mills

Related tags: Cascadian farm, Kernza, The Land Institute, eco-friendly, Wheat, Breakfast cereal, Deeply Rooted For Good, Environment, Carbon

General Mills’ plans to roll out a new cereal made from Kernza across the US have stalled. However, instead of crying over spilt milk, the company has put a new spin on marketing climate beneficial foods.

Weather and mistimed planting and harvesting decisions sabotaged the 2018 season’s output of Kernza, meaning the company’s Cascadian Farms brand had to scale back its product rollout.

Cascadian Farms is only releasing 6,000 boxes of Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal, a much smaller batch than expected.

Kernza is a wild relative of wheat that holds exciting environmental and economic benefits.

Research has found it can reduce soil erosion, hold in more carbon and minimize nitrogen inputs and groundwater seepage.

Its dense root system extends over 10 feet, which is twice as deep as conventional annual wheat, meaning farmers do not need to till the soil and replant every year.

Fighting climate change

Threshed Kernza perennial grain seeds and unthreshed Kernza seed heads
Threshed Kernza perennial grain seeds and unthreshed Kernza seed heads

In 2017, General Mills announced it was giving The Land Institute (TLI)​ – a non-profit agricultural research organization that has been breeding the while wheatgrass for 15 years – a $500,000 grant to advance field tests in the hopes to use the grain in its cereal products.

“What we are doing is going back and re-imagining, ‘What if our ancestors had commercialized perennials rather than annuals?’ ”​ said Fred Iutzi, president of TLI.

“Before we had a wild grain and a dream of a perennial grain crop. Now, we have a perennial grain crop.”

It has taken years to get Kernza ready for commercialization, which is a “huge achievement,”​ he added.

“The decisions we make in 2019 will add or subtract decades to that process. At this point, the research needs to scale up.”

According to Maria Carolina Coming, marketing director for Cascadian Farm, Kernza reflects the experimental vision of the company’s founder, Gene Kahn.

“If you think about what organic used to be, it used to be knockoffs of your favorite products,”​ said Comings.

“The [company] mission was to change the way we grow food, and Kernza fits into that so beautifully.”

Deeply rooted

Kernza bread
Bread made from Kernza

General Mills was supposed to roll out the Kernza-based cereal in natural food stores in the US this year.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature’s plans were not on its side, so it changed course.

The company has set up a fundraising campaign, called Deeply Rooted For Good,​ to advance climate-beneficial foods by making its limited run of Honey Toasted Kernza Cereal available to consumers interested in donating at least $25 to The Land Institute.

“We believe so much in the potential of Kernza, we made the tough call to launch a cereal made with transitional organic Kernza,”​ said Comings.

“We are using this small-batch launch as an opportunity to educate more people about Kernza and its benefits.”

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