Sector News

Keeping food transparent: F&B suppliers talk eliminating bias and the pitfalls of eco-labeling

January 15, 2022
Consumer Packaged Goods

The renewed momentum of sustainable food production hinges on efficient platforms that enable full supply chain visibility. While previous months have seen the wider implementation of consumer-facing schemes, such as eco-labeling, these new faculties are not without their limitations.

FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key suppliers Corbion, Agrana Fruit and Kerry to discuss what core strategies are helping keep food businesses up-to-speed with their environmental reporting while remaining bias-free.

“We don’t believe in doom and gloom communication, but more in the positive, ‘it can be done’ way. You can eat food that is healthy, affordable and good for the planet. You don’t have to choose,” remarks Diana Visser, senior director of sustainability at Corbion.

The idea of sustainability has now evolved to the concept of “sustainable nutrition,” illustrates Juan Aguiriano, group head of sustainability at Kerry. “We are seeing this phrase being used more and more instead of just ‘sustainability’.”

“Typically, when people think about sustainability, their first thought is about the environment, such as water use or waste. Still, there are other essential parts of sustainability like nutrition and health, economics and culture.”

“Brands will need to communicate sustainability in a more holistic way to engage consumers in the future,” he stresses.

Eco-labeling in the spotlight
Eco-labeling is anticipated to rise in popularity, as these front-of-pack indicators are designed to help consumers assess the overall environmental impacts of the products they buy while accelerating industry’s journey toward net-zero emissions.

Last year, Lidl supermarket trialed the UK’s new Eco-Score traffic light labeling system in Scotland, helping shoppers understand the sustainability credentials of food and beverage products and their packaging.

During the same month, Foodsteps formally launched in the UK as the country’s first tech firm to provide carbon tracking and impact labeling to restaurants, caterers and food businesses.

Foodsteps’ and Lidl’s labeling schemes closely follow that of Amcor, which recently introduced printed “Reducing CO2 Packaging” labels for the packaging sector that are accredited by the UK-based Carbon Trust.

“We support the introduction of new eco-labeling schemes developed using internationally recognized, standardized, and transparent assessment methodologies that can help consumers understand more about the origins and the impact of products and help them make more informed purchasing decisions,” says Cornelia Konlechner, global director quality and sustainability Agrana Fruit.

However, she concedes that the disadvantage of having eco-labeling schemes based on unclear definitions and methodologies is that companies may “use them to their own benefit.”

“We are not in favor of adding more eco-labels – there are already so many,” argues Visser at Corbion.

“Alignment and making it easier for consumers to make conscious choices should be the way forward. In this respect, the development of new regulations in the EU, such as the EU Taxonomy and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, may drive the consolidation.”

Visibility challenges in focus
With fixing broken food systems recently underscored as a core ambition for all stakeholders at the COP26 climate summit, heightened visibility across every area of the supply chain comes into focus.

Technological advances have created major innovation opportunities for the entire food and beverage industry, prompting Innova Market Insights to peg “Tech to Table” as its second Top Trend for 2022.

Advances in AI, blockchain, machine learning, robotics and the Internet of Things are anticipated to raise the bar for digital traceability solutions such as smart labeling and digital tracing at speed.

Generally, the geography and the category decide the risk profile of global food supply chains.

Even still, some of the biggest challenges arise when suppliers experience high fluctuations among farmers providing highly diverse raw materials, as Konlechner at Agrana Fruit emphasizes.

“We know that there is a lot more to be done to achieve full transparency in our supply chain and Agrana Fruit, through its global procurement organization, is exploring innovative options to ensure transparency among our key suppliers.”

Geography is key
Generally, the geography and the category decide the risk profile of global food supply chains, adds Aguiriano at Kerry. “For example, soybeans originating from Brazil would be classified as high risk while soybeans from Europe would be low or medium risk. Within our supply chains, we engage with third-party risk assessors to uphold the highest standards.”

“We have a global risk process in place where we classify all the raw materials and packaging that we are purchasing for both social as well as environmental risk,” he continues. “We prioritize our actions toward those vendors which we see as high risk based on a combination of raw material category and geography.”

In 2020, Kerry established a dedicated cross-functional team on human rights. Reporting to the company’s chief human resources officer, its objective is to further integrate the group’s commitments across its operations and supply chain.

“We also published a detailed Human Rights Statement outlining our approach and identified a number of salient human rights issues including forced labor, child labor, discrimination and freedom of association,” adds Aguiriano.

“We have dedicated policies and due diligence processes in each of these areas across all our operations and protections mandated within our Supplier Code of Conduct for workers within our supply chain.”

Ensuring non-bias
The suppliers note that one way to achieve non-bias in sustainability reporting is to follow international reporting standards that provide consistent, comprehensive and industry-specific indicators that allow organizations to benchmark themselves and track performance over time.

“Independent third-party assurance of sustainability reporting provides an added level of transparency and trust that the information shared and published is correct,” stresses Konlechner at Agrana Fruit.

“In addition, having an automated process for capturing and reporting data according to international reporting standards reduces human error and enables early identification of issues and trends that can help a business better define its roadmap toward increased transparency.”

Prominent third-party certification standards include the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and sustainability rating schemes like EcoVadis.

“Since 2020, 100% of Corbion’s palm oil usage has been RSPO certified,” notes Visser.

“Corbion achieved the platinum EcoVadis rating for the second year in 2021. This independent assessment of our policies, actions and results places Corbion among the top 1% of companies assessed.”

Obtaining third-party reviews of environmental and social assessments of products is also integral. “Corbion obtains a third-party review of all of its Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Product Social Impact Assessments (PSIA),” details Visser.

“We aim for 100% coverage of products with an environmental and/or social benefit by such an assessment by 2025 for LCA and by 2030 for PSIA.”

By Benjamin Ferrer


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