Selecting a sustainability seal

by Jeff Gelski
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Consumers may wish to buy products from companies that source ingredients in a sustainable manner. They may be glad to know that the palm oil in the products had no destructive impact on forests and that the farmers of the cocoa in their product received a fair price.

Still, grain-based foods manufacturers may want to ask a few questions before placing a seal on their products that denotes sustainable sourcing of ingredients. For example, will consumers recognize the seal and does enough supply of the ingredients exist to meet the company’s demand?

In regard to cocoa sourcing, the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International both have seals that are appearing on more products. In palm oil sourcing, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (R.S.P.O.) introduced a trademark last year and continues to certify more acreage as sustainable.

People already see sustainable seals on many products. The Natural Marketing Institute, Harleysville, Pa., collected data on “green” consumers and their purchasing habits through the LOHAS Consumer Trends Database. In June the N.M.I. reported a majority of U.S. consumers said they are more likely to buy products with green seals, but about half of them feel there are too many green seals and certifications. Three-fifths of them are looking for one universal seal that crosses industries.

According to the N.M.I., more than 400 registered green logos are found worldwide.

“The hundreds of green seals and certifications in the market make it difficult to know what each seal means, whether it’s credible, and hence make this simple solution desirable,” the N.M.I. said. “For manufacturers, simply adding to the green seal clutter is not a solution that will be sustainable with consumers in the long run. The consequence of seal clutter is diminished effectiveness of each individual seal.”

Consumers are becoming more aware of some seals. Global sales of Fairtrade-certified products rose 12% in 2011 to €4.9 billion from €4.3 billion in 2010, according to Fairtrade International, Bonn, Germany. In the United States, Fairtrade-certified products increased 10% to €1,031 million in 2011 from €937 million in 2010.

In estimated sales in volume per product, bananas led all other food products in 2011. Estimated global sales of Fairtrade-certified bananas in 2011 were 320,923 tonnes, a 9% increase from 294,447 tonnes in 2010. Cocoa bean volume increased 14% to 40,198 tonnes from 35,285 tonnes. Cane sugar volume increased 9% to 138,308 tonnes from 127,144 tonnes.

Fairtrade International seeks sustainable livelihoods for crop producers. More than 1.2 million farmers and workers are found at 991 Fairtrade-certified producer organizations in 66 countries.

Rainforest Alliance, based in New York, seeks to prevent deforestation and other environmental destruction by ensuring that millions of acres of working forests, farms, ranchlands and hotel properties are managed according to sustainability standards.

The organization has partners in the food industry.

Clif Bar & Co., Emeryville, Calif., this year collaborated with the Rainforest Alliance. Clif Bar will source 100% of the cocoa bean ingredients for its Clif Bar energy bars from farms certified by Rainforest Alliance. The energy bars carrying the certified seal will become available to consumers in 2013.

“The Rainforest Alliance certification is a big step toward our five-year goal of increasing Clif Bar & Co.’s purchase of organic and sustainable ingredients to 80% by 2015,” said Carly Lutz, brand director of Clif brands. “Today, only 1% of the world’s cocoa is organic, which makes the need for sustainable sources of cocoa even greater.

“By collaborating with Rainforest Alliance for certification, we’ve expanded our commitment beyond organic. Our work with Rainforest Alliance also enables us to contribute to restorative farming, foster food to farm connections and promote fair treatment of labor.”

Clif Bar will be hesitant to place other seals on the packaging.

“The convenient, portable size of our bars and the information already on the packaging doesn’t leave much additional room on the primary display panel,” Ms. Lutz said. “That makes it unlikely we’ll be able to feature many more sustainability seals in the future.”

Mars Chocolate recently announced more than 20% of the cocoa supply it purchases this year will be certified sustainable. Mars’ cocoa purchases in 2011 were certified according to the standards of the Rainforest Alliance and Utz Certified. The company began purchasing Fairtrade cocoa in 2012. Mars plans to purchase certified cocoa for all products by 2020.

Barry Callebaut, Zurich, Switzerland, provides training in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and support in setting up systems to help farmers and cooperative managers meet the environmental, social and economic criteria of Rainforest Alliance. Barry Callebaut has trained 15,000 cocoa farmers from 50 farmer cooperatives in Cote d’Ivoire.

Barry Callebaut pays the cooperatives a premium for the certified beans. Farmers receive half the premium. The cooperatives retain the other half and use it to provide services to its farmer members or for community facilities.

The Rainforest Alliance earlier this year honored Blommer Chocolate Co., Chicago, with a “Sustainable Standard-Setter” award in recognition of the company’s farmer-focused programs and its investments in cocoa’s future. Blommer plans to invest $45 million in cocoa sustainability efforts by 2020. By that year the company plans to reach an additional 50,000 cocoa farmers worldwide, which would double its current farmer base.

Blommer trains farmers in West Africa, Indonesia and South America in pre-harvest and post-harvest agronomic practices. These sustainability programs include training on safe farming practices, environmental stewardships, HIV awareness and the appropriate role of children on the farm.

“Companies like Blommer Chocolate Co. continue to raise the bar, making bold commitments to sustainability and traceability,” said Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. “Through working with Rainforest Alliance, Blommer is helping to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farming communities while protecting natural resources for generations to come.”

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., also is involved in sustainable cocoa sourcing as the company seeks to educate farmers and help communities in cocoa growing regions, said Neil Widlak, director of product service and development at ADM Cocoa. Unlike major corn and soybean growing regions, cocoa grows in areas where the countries are economically challenged, he said. Cocoa is grown in smaller farms that are isolated and in between forests and jungles.

Cocoa yield needs to improve because there are not a lot of areas in the world where people may grow cocoa, Mr. Widlak said. Farmers also may have the opportunity to grow other crops besides cocoa. For example, rubber crops are easier to grow than cocoa crops.

Palm oil often is sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, based in Kualu Lumpur, Malaysia, last year introduced a trademark for its certified sustainable palm oil. R.S.P.O. certification at the plantation level and the trademark on the end product reflect that sustainable oil palm cultivation does not contribute to the sustained destruction of tropical forest or damage the interests of people living where palms are grown.
As of June 29 of this year, the R.S.P.O. had issued 61 trademark licenses across 13 countries. Makers of such products as margarine, cookies, chocolate, soap and cosmetics may use the trademark on their packaging.

The R.S.P.O., formed in 2004, promotes the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products through global standards and the engagement of stakeholders. The not-for-profit association has stakeholders in seven sectors of the palm oil industry: oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation non-governmental organizations and social or developmental non-governmental organizations.

The R.S.P.O. updated its progress in June. Membership has grown by over 35% this year and is nearing 900 members from more than 50 countries, said Darrel Webber, secretary general.

Certification is taking place in Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, West Africa and Latin America. The R.S.P.O. in total had certified 36 grower companies with 146 mills. Land area covered 1.3 million hectares, or about 3.2 million acres, with 6.4 million tonnes of certified sustainable palm oil, or about 12% of the total global crude palm oil.

IOI Loders Croklaan, which has a U.S. office in Channahon, Ill., brought its first delivery of certified sustainable palm oil to North America in 2011. The IOI Group was a founding member of the R.S.P.O.
“Sustainable palm oil production starts with the plantation,” said Tim Surin, director of sales and marketing at IOI Loders Croklaan Americas. “All of the plantations of IOI Group have completed the work needed to comply with the principles and criteria of the R.S.P.O. Supply chain certification, also managed by R.S.P.O., ensures that C.S.P.O. (certified sustainable palm oil) is delivered to the final customer by a method that is approved and audited on an annual basis by an independent assessor.”

AarhusKarlshamn AB, which has a U.S. office in Edison, N.J., is another founding member of the R.S.P.O.
“AAK continues to expand its sustainable portfolio to meet our customer demands,” said Mark Zavodnyik, sourcing and trading associate.

ADM, another member of the R.S.P.O., in 2011 announced plans to invest in sustainable palm oil production in Brazil. The investment will encompass about 12,000 hectares, or nearly 30,000 acres, of palm production and include the construction of a palm processing plant.

Minneapolis-based Cargill, an R.S.P.O. member, has said palm oil products, excluding palm kernel oil products, supplied to its customers in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will be certified by the R.S.P.O. and/or originated from smallholder growers by 2015. Cargill said by 2020 its commitment will cover 100% of its palm oil products to all customers worldwide, including China and India.

If using a seal from the R.S.P.O., Fairtrade International or the Rainforest Alliance, grain-based foods companies still may need to educate their customers.

“Seals can be a valuable part of the marketing mix for green products, but marketers should be aware of the growing clutter, and that seals, like any brand, need to be supported with consistent marketing,” the Natural Marketing Institute said. “Availability of marketing resources has a direct impact on awareness. Some of the non-profit-backed seals are tackling important issues, are very credible and aligned with consumer interest, but as products of non-profits, are under-supported. This clearly can lead to a catch-22, where promoting seals is limited by a lack of marketing dollars, but higher fees would limit participation.
“Balancing education and outreach with accessibility and value is a difficult, but an important, balance to strike.”

Cereal makers reduce waste for sustainability efforts

Three of the top U.S. cereal makers have become more sustainably active by reducing waste, particularly in packaging.

• The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., improved its package-to-food ratios across product categories by an average of 3.5% in 2011, which builds on a 7.9% improvement in 2010.

• General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, reduced its solid waste generation by 34% from 2005 to 2011, which pushes the company closer to its goal of a 50% reduction from 2005 to 2015.

• MOM Brands, Lakeville, Minn., reduced packaging by placing its cereal in a bag, not a box. The company also has a “Bag the Box” campaign that engages customers on the issue of excess packaging and promotes Malt-O-Meal cereal in bags.

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