The packaging for a new snack brand called Moonshot doesn’t emphasize the fact that it’s organic. Instead, in large type on the front of the box, it says it’s “climate-friendly.” The ingredients are grown regeneratively, using techniques that can capture and store more carbon in the soil. The shipping is carbon neutral. Any emissions from the product that can’t be reduced have been offset.
“We’re hoping to create a new category of food called climate-friendly food,” says Julia Collins, founder and CEO of Planet Fwd, the startup that created the new brand.
Collins, the first Black woman to cofound a unicorn company (Zume Pizza, a Softbank-backed robotic pizza startup that struggled after she left), began focusing on the challenge of climate change in 2017 when she was expecting her first child. “There was something about the experience of thinking about what it meant to be a parent that made me [move from] what was once concern about climate change to really having an absolute obsession with doing everything that I could,” she says.
The food system is one of the world’s largest sources of emissions for a long list of reasons, including fertilizer use, deforestation, and methane from cattle belches. As one recent study calculated, if food production doesn’t change, it won’t be possible to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement and avoid the worst impacts of global warming. As Collins researched the problem, she learned more about the potential for regenerative agriculture to begin to sequester emissions, and realized that the food system also presented a unique opportunity.
“I looked at the solutions that were in place,” she says. “I realized that they were important from the standpoint of getting to net-zero carbon emissions or decarbonization, like electrification and shifting away from heavy fossil fuel use to alternative forms of energy. But what I thought was so fascinating about looking at the food systems as an additional solution was that food systems actually have the power to sequester carbon and address the legacy load of carbon that we all have to find a way to deal with.”
The world’s soils contain a massive amount of carbon—more than three times as much as the atmosphere—and some farming practices can help increase it, such as planting cover crops, shifting to no-till farming, or rotational grazing from livestock. It’s a concept that isn’t yet fully proven, though there are some early studies showing that it can help. Several food brands are beginning to embrace the idea, including large corporations like General Mills, which touted a version of macaroni and cheese grown with regenerative ingredients and then announced that it would invest in helping its suppliers convert a million acres to regenerative farming. Cascadian Farm launched a cereal made with a grain called Kernza, a perennial crop with long roots well-suited to sequestering carbon; Patagonia Provisions, the food brand of the outdoor retailer, launched a beer using the same ingredient.
Moonshot Snacks’ first product is a cracker, made with regeneratively grown wheat and regeneratively grown sunflower oil. “The way that we went about creating our first product is actually the inverse of how it’s normally done,” Collins says. “Normally, somebody thinks of what they want to make, whether it’s a bar or oat milk, and they create specs for that product and go out to the supply chain to identify ingredients. In the case of Moonshot, we did the inverse: We went first to the supply chain and looked for farmers who were using regenerative practices, and then went back and design the product from those sources.” The team is working with soil scientists from universities to take soil samples from the farms and measure how carbon increases over time.
Planet Fwd, the parent company of the brand, will also launch other “climate-friendly” snacks. Collins wants to help the industry grow, and the team is developing software that other food brands can use to get data on the practices that farmers are using and the climate impact. Right now, she says, only 5% of cropland in the U.S. is being managed for soil health. But brands like Moonshot can help build consumer demand. Large retailers could also begin to make commitments to source products with regeneratively grown ingredients. At a larger scale, farm policy can also change to encourage more farmers to move to regenerative agriculture.
“What we hope will happen as a result of Moonshot Snacks being successful, and as a result of the software tool that we’re building, is that we can help to expand the adoption of regenerative agriculture so that our U.S. cropland can meet what I hope will be an increasing consumer appetite for climate-friendly eating,” she says.