More than jerky: Patagonia expands in food


FORTUNE — Along with fleece coats and fishing vests, you can now pick up dinner at Patagonia.

The eco-friendly, socially-conscious maker of active wear now sells $12 pouches of “responsibly-sourced” Wild Sockeye Salmon. (The fully-cooked fillets are available in original and lemon pepper varieties). Marketed as both delicious enough to serve at dinner parties and portable enough to eat while climbing Everest—Patagonia’s website offers wild salmon recipes “to refuel after a long day on the trail or at the office”—the product is just the first course from a retailer that hopes to change the way people eat (and more radically, the way food is produced).

Patagonia, which had $600 million in revenues in 2013, made its first foray into the food business in 2012 when it introduced wild salmon jerky. After early lessons learned, the company is entering the category in a more serious way this year.

In June, the company will begin selling buffalo jerky, the dried meat of grass-fed, free-roaming bison from the Great Plains. And by the end of the year, Patagonia expects to have introduced a number of other, sustainably-sourced food products (grains among them) that will be sold beyond Patagonia, eventually in actual grocery stores.

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The move into food may strike many as an unusual strategy for a retailer best known for durable outerwear, but Birgit Cameron, director of Patagonia Provisions, says it’s a natural extension for the 42-year old company, which (despite its inventory of Capilene underlayers) is known for transparency.

“Our brand is about examining the supply chain of everything we do,” says Cameron. “Because that’s such a core part of everything we make, we felt we could apply this to other areas and take risk of going into a completely different world because that transparency is something that consumers are definitely wanting.”

Patagonia’s salmon, for example, is fished only from carefully-vetted fish runs with pure and sustainable wild salmon populations. Working with conservationists and biologists to identify such sources, Patagonia hopes to help reverse the damage that’s been done to the continent’s wild salmon stock through years of industrialization, commercial fishing, dam building and more. It also hopes to call attention to the issue in a way that will change industry and broader consumer habits. (Patagonia also produced DamNation, a documentary that premiered at South by Southwest earlier this year to spread the message.)

“We really want to have people start thinking about the supply chain—how things are made and how it effects our environment—so they really start making decisions based on that,” says Cameron.

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Patagonia has always been well ahead of America’s corporate social responsibility curve. While many businesses have adopted CSR policies, Patagonia which was founded in 1972 by Yvon Chouinard, an environmentally-minded blacksmith and rock-climbing enthusiast, has operated by them—without the jargon—for decades. On its website, Patagonia currently offers detailed information about its suppliers around the world, with the stated goal of reducing social and environmental impacts. In 2011, the company partnered with Wal-Mart (WMT)  to found the Sustainable Apparel Coalition.

Chouinard, whose unconventional business philosophy has been captured in his books Let My People Go Surfing and The Responsible Company, is very much the driver of these efforts and Patagonia’s recent expansion into food. His interest in food pre-dates his interest in outdoor apparel, and in 2013 he opened Patagonia Provisions headquarters in Sausalito, CA because of the area’s reputation as an innovative and socially-conscious food center.

Yet, the brand’s food venture is no hobby project. Cameron says the company is building the business carefully and thoughtfully, both to inspire needed changes in the food industry and to make Patagonia Provisions profitable. She adds that the company has spent much time investigating like-minded partners (like Wild Idea Buffalo, the South Dakota ranch that sources Patagonia’s bison jerky) and how to make the right product.

Along those lines, there’s still some tinkering going on in Patagonia’s kitchen. The company discontinued its original salmon jerkies after deciding there were better ways to make use of the salmon. The company is currently working on a new jerky recipe using the hard-to-remove flesh around the salmon’s backbone as well as a pet treat made using salmon scraps.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version. 




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