Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in and aware of how their food and clothing is produced. We see this trend as organic products become more widely available in retail stores, and as large companies make commitments to producing food and fiber in a more sustainable manner. As Indigo’s Head of Crop Product Management, my work is driven by the company’s commitment to support farmers as they produce healthier and more environmentally sustainable food. Delivering products that meet consumer demands is the goal of any product manager — in fact, it’s the reason that the function exists. At Indigo, we are tackling outdated features and inefficiencies in the food system in order to more closely connect the supply side of production with the voice of the consumer.
I’ve spent my career in agricultural production, despite living in big cities where people’s connection to food and awareness of how it’s grown is often tenuous at best. Still, over the past decade, I’ve watched things begin to change; the communities in which I’ve lived are transforming as people become increasingly focused on food. My neighbors have begun to care about how their food has been produced, where it comes from, and what sort of impact it has on the broader world. Grocery stores have aisles dedicated to “natural” foods, fair trade coffee and chocolate are sold in corner markets, restaurants are sourcing more produce locally — and consumers are willing to pay for food that matches their values. Quality, origin, and sustainability are beginning to have a significant impact on how we spend our food dollars. And it doesn’t stop with food: consumers are holding apparel producers accountable for the human rights and environmental footprints of their supply chains.
Largely, though, our agricultural system is not prepared to respond. It’s murky, and doesn’t make it simple for consumers to understand the origin or impact of their purchases. Premised on moving material as efficiently as possible and in as much volume as possible, the commodity system does not value quality or traceability. Instead, it upholds quantity and homogeneity. This system for moving and storing food is more or less identical to that for moving and storing any other commodity, such as gravel or iron ore. It is simply not aligned with consumer preferences, and this disconnect is growing.
Today’s consumers are pushing back on the outdated agricultural system, and the ag industry now has the tools to respond. Natural microbial technologies now allow for the production of crops that support both grower profitability and environmental sustainability. Digital technologies allow for improved decision-making on-farm and in the grocery store, providing a new level of transparency into the supply system. Technologies for storage and transport allow for the segregation and identity preservation of crops. With this, crops can move from the commodity market into the specialty market, where there is full visibility from the farm to the family pantry. “Organic” is a distinction of specialty crop that is becoming increasingly popular among consumers. This label indicates that crops were grown according to certain standards. These standards vary from country to country, but generally aim to enhance soil and water quality through the reduction of synthetic chemical and GMO use.
At Indigo, we’ve recently had our microbial product in corn formally certified for use in organic production systems. Derived from naturally-occurring microbes, our products are a clear and consistent ally for organic production systems, which generally have fewer effective tools to leverage for crop protection. We are excited be able to support organic operations, and intend to certify our products across many crops. Pairing our natural products with our innovative business model, we will share with growers in their production and marketing risk while enabling them to explore organic production systems.
Organic production is just one example of how Indigo intends to link consumer preferences to grower practices. We are working to expand into a range of production systems that better respond to consumer preferences for how their food is grown. Our products and business model can support grower profitability, while allowing for food and fiber production that requires less water, synthetic fertilizer, and chemistry. I’m proud to be working at Indigo, where our team is pushing towards an agricultural system that supports improved grower profitability, environmental sustainability, and consumer health.