‘Every day should be Earth Day’: Quinn’s mission to clean up the global food system from the ground up
Since its humble beginnings from her attic three days after her first son, Quinn, was born, Quinn Snacks has been at the forefront of a growing a movement around regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture is quite simply any form of farming that aims to revitalise and regenerate the soil and the wider environment, not just minimise the impact of production. In a nutshell, practices focus on nourishing the soil, increasing farm biodiversity, improving water quality and climate resilience, capturing carbon, and restoring and regenerating the land.
Considered one of Fortune Magazine’s Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs, Lewis’ philosophy is rooted in holistic, inclusive and attainable approaches for all farmers at any stage in their journey.
“There is room for all farmers, conventional and organic, in the regenerative agriculture movement,” she said.
“You don't have to be doing it perfectly to be doing it better. As a food company, we have a social and ethical responsibility to continue to push against the status quo to create massive change within our food and ag industries – and I challenge all founders, CEOs, Board of Directors and decisionmakers to lead with the same intent.”
A mom of three boys, Lewis is committed to eliminating synthetic chemicals and pesticides from the overall supply chain, while breaking down the barriers between organic and conventional agriculture.
“There are early studies that suggest when you grow your food in a system without these inputs, but using the pillars of regenerative ag practices, you create a thriving ecosystem with stronger yields and a healthier, more nutrient-dense crop, one with higher amounts of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
“This is not just about reducing carbon, it’s about the health of our soil, the health of our food, our gut and our mental and physical health. Human and planet health all stem from the food we eat and how it was grown.”
The importance of Earth Day
“As a company and a brand, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our planet and Earth Day is a wonderful reminder of that. I think every day should be Earth Day, but [22 April] should be marked on the calendar as something that everyone should be paying attention to,” Lewis told Bakery&Snacks.
“We are a salty snack company, so we’re a fun company, but doing a lot of good. Through the whole month of April, we’re really trying to push awareness around Earth Day and get more of our consumers involved.”
Added Lewis, “95% of our food supply depends on our topsoil to grow it [a mere 6” layer of our Earth’s crust], but in the US … soil used for crops is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished. This erosion can also lead up to 50% of loss in crop yields, which is pretty drastic, yet we’re expecting our soil to feed 9 billion people by 2050. So that's a big thing for us.”
She added, “We have 895 million of acres of farmland in the United States and only 9.3m of them are organic.
“We’re seeing a lot of progress getting certain pesticides and chemicals out of the system, but at Quinn, we were trying to figure out ‘what are we doing with the rest of the 99% of agriculture and how do we grow food in a way that has a measurable impact on the health of our soil, our ecosystems and communities?’ So that's something we've really taken a close look at.
“I have three boys and the idea was to get the pesticides and synthetics and herbicides out of our food system. Dave Vetter once told me you really can't do that until you create a healthy ecosystem and soil that’s thriving.
“That's where we started to learn more about crop rotation, less-to-no tillage, introducing livestock and creating this massive ecosystem that captures carbon but also provides a more nutrient-dense product and increases food security down the road.
“We are not into certifications; we’re really working to verify practices on the farms that we work with and to convert conventional over into regenerative, which for us really means how Mother Nature intended us to grow our food.”
Earlier this month, Quinn announced its participation in the Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI), a new verification programme from nonprofit Green America.
“They are very aligned with our mindset … and are now working in partnership with us and our farmers to grow ingredients more regeneratively. This is not an overnight solution – it takes decades. We’re a small company (15 people), so it requires a ton of our day-to-day to work with our growers,” said Lewis.
“Every year [our growers need to show] an improvement. If they're reducing pesticides by 60% one year, then 80% the next year and 100% the year after that, in conjunction with introducing crop rotation one year and then minimal-to-no tillage the next year, it's all about improving. SCI works with our growers so that we can really help them be and do better in their ag journey. So it's a phenomenal partnership and we're really grateful for them.”
Back to basics
When Quinn started almost 13 years ago, the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ hadn’t as yet become the buzzword it is today – although “there was a unified understanding of what it means and what companies were trying to do,” said Lewis.
“To explain what we were doing to introduce more transparency into the food system – knowing where your food is coming from; how it's grown – I used to say ‘we’re taking it back to basics’.”
Quinn may be working hard to take snacking back to its roots, but its snacks are far from basic, having invented a number of industry firsts: such as the world’s first microwave organic popcorn in a patented bag made of compostable paper with no chemical or plastic coatings; the first line of whole-grain and gluten-free pretzels; and the first and only gluten-free filled pretzel nugget, becoming the better-for-you brand leader in the overall $1.6bn pretzel category in the US.
In January, Quinn also debuted its Family Farmed Pop-at-Home, pesticide-free popcorn kernels in partnership with Steve McKaskle, a fifth-generation farmer who has been integrating regenerative farming principles for almost 30 years. While this is a new partnership for the Boulder, Colorado-based snack producer, it has been working with organic and regenerative agriculture pioneer Dave Vetter of Grain Place Foods since 2010.
Quinn's snacks have been granted the Climate Friendly status from HowGood – the world’s largest sustainability database – attributed to the top 30% of food products with low carbon emissions.