Nicole Atchison was only 2 years old when her parents, Jerry and Renee Lorenzen, founded what is now PURIS. She grew up in the family business but left to play college volleyball at Iowa State University, where she earned a degree in chemical engineering and then a doctorate in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota.
“I worked in the medical device industry for several years and during that time, my brother Tyler became the CEO of PURIS Protein,” Atchison says. “He was working to scale the business, and once I had the opportunity to make a change in my life and career, I decided to return and work toward that goal.”
Atchison is CEO of PURIS Holdings, leading innovation and business development across the company. PURIS manufactures PURIS Pea protein, starches, fibers, and other non-GMO ingredients from crops like soy, pulses, and lentils.
In its Grower Network, PURIS provides farmers with seed and support to establish regenerative growing practices and navigate organic certification. Contracts are personalized to the needs of each farm, and the crops are bought back to make the ingredients and innovative foods PURIS is known for.
“It’s so rewarding to fulfill my parents’ vision and continue building the company for our family,” Atchison says. “A family that has grown to include our business team, farmers, and customers.”
SF: What are your goals as CEO?
NA: Our aspiration is a plant-strong planet. To me, that means we are creating a system where plants can be revered as an amazing source of nutrition. Our job is to make food affordable and accessible for everyone, and to do it in a way that drives more value back to every acre used to grow a crop. It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s one we’re really motivated by because it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. We can create systems that bring value to the consumers, processors, and farmers. We’re trying to build and scale to support the market of consumers who want plant-based choices from local sources. So many options on the shelf are not supporting U.S. farmers – they’re imported.
SF: How do you envision the future of food?
NA: Our mission is to rally growers, makers, and eaters around a sustainable food future. And to do that, all parties must work together. We see a future where food is truly evaluated for all costs: to the planet, people, health, as well as cost in currency. All of these need to be evaluated so that our food system nourishes people and planet equally, toward a sustainable system for generations to come. We’re looking to contribute to that by making great-tasting plant-based foods that people want to eat, using crops grown by U.S. farmers.
SF: How can Midwestern farmers participate in the market?
NA: There are a lot of perceptions on whether the growth of the plant-based food market is good or bad for farmers. It can be an incredible opportunity. The industry is growing rapidly with no signs of stopping, so there are two ways this can go: the market will grow and the American farmer can participate and benefit from it, or grains will be imported and the market will still grow, but U.S. farmers won’t participate.
We’re building a system to grow and manufacture foods in this market at home. We’re revitalizing plants in rural communities – a lot of times in farming communities – using those assets and transforming them to make a new product and to bring jobs back.
SF: Whom do you admire in ag?
NA: I admire the farmers who do things a little differently. They may be the ones people have thought are kind of odd but have kept at it. That is a lot like my dad. He did things differently and people didn’t get it for the first 20 to 30 years of our lives. He did it anyway and kept pushing. I really admire those people because it’s hard to be the one doing something that people don’t understand. And then when it starts to click, they’re a visionary.