St. Louis-born Airly is the world’s first ‘climate-friendly snack cracker’
Post Holdings is no stranger to bringing new products to grocery stores. The Brentwood, Missouri-based company sells everything from Honey Bunches of Oats to Egg Beaters.
But the cracker it began offering in stores this May is something totally different. Airly — now on sale at a Schnucks near you, as well as stores in Texas — doesn’t just compete with Cheez-Its and Goldfish. It’s also being marketed as the first-ever climate-friendly snack cracker brand, one that actually helps remove greenhouse gases from the air.
The company took its inspiration from a statistic showing that as much as 30% of greenhouse gases come from the global food supply chain.
“We started with just a simple question of what if, instead of just trying to be less bad, we could actually use food to help start to solve climate change?” said co-founder Jen McKnight.
As McKnight explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Post Holdings CEO Rob Vitale tasked her and one other employee, Mark Izzo, with a mission. Vitale, she said, “was interested in really using food as a way to help solve things.” His challenge to the pair? “Go disrupt food and beverage.”
That mission led to the founding of Airly Foods, a startup backed by Post Holdings and also based in suburban St. Louis. Izzo is now the company’s chief science officer; its third co-founder, Kris Corbin, joined the group not long after Izzo and McKnight settled on climate change for their disruption.
Corbin’s job now involves contracting with farmers open to going carbon negative, working with them to refine practices that trap carbon underground rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
Some farmers, he said, have been employing some climate-friendly practices for more than a decade now. But putting it all together was something new.
“There's only about 1% of farmers who carbon farm, and that's really where we're focused on is carbon farming: putting the carbon back into the soil,” he explained. “And we want to share our story and help people understand what we're doing so that we can convert more growers to that set of practices.”
Said McKnight: “We had a hypothesis; we thought it was possible. But it really wasn't until that first crop came in that we were able to validate through our life-cycle analysis that through all the farming activities, all the inputs, all the machinery, we were actually able to get to truly negative on farm.”
Farmers have noticed. In Airly’s first year, one carbon-negative oat farm got things going. In the following year, five oat farmers and seven wheat farmers came on board, Corbin said.
And by blazing these trails, Airly hopes other companies will follow. The founders want Airly to be what’s known in industry parlance as a “lighthouse” brand. “Our hope is that by going out there and showing this as possible, a whole lot of other people jump in and do it too,” she said.
Not just possible, but tasty. Airly’s crackers come in four flavors (sea salt, cheddar, chocolate and salted caramel) and are sold at a price point comparable to other snacks with far less ambitious goals (about $3 a box, depending on your location and grocer).
“Fundamentally, when you price something at $7, you're just not going to be able to get a lot of people to buy it,” McKnight noted. “It's going to be out of reach. We really designed this with the idea that this is accessible to everybody.
“Because the more people that buy it, the more farmland we can do carbon farming with — and candidly, we don't want to be the only ones out there.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.