Creating a sustainable future, together
With consumers increasingly demanding food and drink products with transparent, ethical origins, it’s never been more important to embrace sustainable practices at every stage of the supply chain. Many are actively seeking ways they can make better choices, with 30% of global consumers willing to pay a premium price for sustainably sourced products.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served to heighten consumers’ desire for more ethically sourced food and beverages. 72% of consumers across 20 countries said that companies behaving sustainably was more important to them because of COVID-19. Another survey of more than 3,000 people across eight countries found that in the wake of the pandemic, people are more concerned about addressing environmental challenges and are more committed to changing their own behaviour to advance sustainability.
So, what can manufacturing and new product development (NPD) teams do to meet this rising demand head-on?
Supply chain control
Clearer labelling and a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing means that consumers are more likely to interrogate the food and beverage items they see on supermarket shelves when making a purchase decision. They want to know exactly what they are consuming, where the ingredients originate, how they have been produced and if the brand owners share values that align with their own. The only way to provide this information accurately and transparently is through strict supply chain control. From seed selection and sustainable agriculture initiatives, through to low-waste operations and ethical people management, the ‘story’ of your food and drink has never been so vital.
Ensuring complete traceability across the supply chain is a key priority for SVZ. As a global fruit and vegetable ingredient supplier, we keep a close eye on every stage of the supply chain – from agriculture through to processing and transportation – to ensure that our impact on the environment is minimised as much as possible. With a large number of partner farmers spread across a wide geographical area, it can be challenging to ensure that farm standards are being maintained consistently. In Poland, for example, we source crops from a number of small, family-run holdings across the country. Due to their small size and often remote locations, the challenge here lies in establishing complete visibility over every growing practice and labour policy used by these suppliers and identifying the farms in need of support.
To combat this challenge, we have developed a digital tool which allows our agronomy teams to accurately assess standards at new farms during the registration process. This tool creates a standardised method for farmers to self-report conditions and practices on their farms; from the crop varieties used, to harvesting methods. Using the data gathered, our agronomy teams are then able to offer support and recommendations to farmers, helping them adopt the right practices to improve the sustainability of their farms, and produce crops that meet our customers’ requirements. Overall, this has allowed us to expand our supply chain visibility and assess and compare the results of different agricultural practices, reassuring our customers that the entire supply chain meets their expectations.
As part of our commitment to an ethical and transparent supply chain, we have also implemented several steps to help support our suppliers and make our partner farms more open and aware of sustainable agricultural practices. For example, we conduct annual training programmes for up to 3,000 farmers, advising on best practice, reintroducing tried and tested farming methods and encouraging suppliers to adopt responsible practices that protect the natural world. Our training programmes emphasise the need for regular crop rotation to maintain soil quality and encourage our suppliers to minimise the use of insecticides that can harm native bee populations. By encouraging knowledge-sharing and championing our partner farmers as vehicles for positive change, we hope to increase sustainability awareness even further and work towards a more collaborative future.
At SVZ, we understand the value of establishing truly environmentally conscious methods of production and are eager to work together with our partners and customers to share ideas and create new opportunities for change.
To protect crop health and consistent soil quality, this year we have introduced a sustainable initiative to tackle pests. Biological control is the use of any products of a natural origin to prevent or eliminate pests found in crops. These natural products fight off unwanted pests and diseases, keeping crops healthy without the need for harsh chemical pesticides. For example, some of the main adversaries of strawberries grown in Spain are fungal diseases like fruit rot, also known as botrytis, and insects like thrips and aphids. By using biological instead of chemical origin products, any potential health issues for consumers are largely reduced due to the minimised residues left behind. The environment is also safer as the risk of contamination in the soil is lower, meaning crops are more likely to thrive and do so without containing toxins. Using biological control also has advantages for growers as the waiting time to harvest after the last spraying is zero or very short, while risks towards their own health are low to non-existent. Plus, as resistance against biological control agents is rare, the strategy can be adopted as a long-term, sustainable solution.
At SVZ, we firmly believe that actions speak louder than words. Sustainability underpins our entire business, and we’re committed to reducing our environmental impact with real, actionable steps. Our most prominent commitment is to achieve 100% sustainable sourcing by 2030, as set out by our 2017 covenant. We are measuring our progress towards this goal via our supplier farms’ adherence to the standards set out by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI). More specifically, we encourage our farmers to undertake the SAI Farmer Sustainability Assessment (FSA), which evaluates all areas of a supplier’s operation; from crop rotation to waste management and recommends areas of improvement.
We see it as our responsibility to explain the importance of this standard to our farmers and support them through the process of implementing better, more sustainable methods of growing and harvesting. Ultimately, increased uptake of SAI standards not only allows SVZ to reach its sustainability goals, but also helps farmers make their farms more efficient, profitable and resilient to the challenges of a changing climate. We have already made significant progress towards our 2030 goal, with 64% of total sourced ingredients sustainably sourced in 2020.
We also participate in the EcoVadis measurement programme, which acts as a more tangible score card for our sustainability efforts, highlighting successful initiatives as well as potential areas for improvement. Every three years, all our production locations additionally undergo a SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) which assess working conditions throughout our facilities; from health and safety to staff wellbeing and wages.
There has been a broad range of voices pushing for sustainability over the years, and it’s promising to see that, over the past decade or so, it’s developed into a mainstream initiative. We believe that the major driving force today is consumers, who are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability and ethically produced food. As a result, many food and drink manufacturers are rethinking and expand their vegetarian offering, as well as providing options for those who prefer to adopt a more ‘flexitarian’ approach.
As a fruit and vegetable ingredient supplier, we are seeing an increased demand for plant-based alternatives to animal-derived ingredients. As an alternative source of nutrients such as protein and iron, NPD teams can use natural ingredients such as red beets and carrots to create alternatives to animal-derived substances. Alternatively, we are also seeing manufacturers seeking to improve the consistency, sweetness and overall health benefits of their current vegan ‘meat’ or ‘dairy’ options by incorporating naturally healthy fruits and vegetable ingredients.
We are committed to helping our customers meet their sustainability goals and in turn, helping their own customers do the same. That’s why a key focus for our product development in 2021 has been our range of fermented fruit and vegetable ingredients, from red beet to carrot. Undergoing a natural fermentation process without the need for sterilisation or citric acid, they product a long-lasting mild taste that is less sour and acidic when compared to traditional fermented ingredients. By incorporating these functional ingredients into their products, food and drink manufacturers can offer natural, nutrient-rich alternatives to animal-derived products that are better for both people and planet.
Growing better, together
For SVZ, sustainability has always been at the core of what we do. Through sustainable agricultural initiatives, efficient operations and valuing our people, we ensure that ethical, environmentally responsible processes are introduced across the supply chain.
We are committed to efficient supply chain management and work continually to drive production efficiencies. With a focus on delivering the highest yield of good quality fruit and vegetables to our customers, we work hard to make sure we give something back. Whether that is to the land and the soil, our people or our farmers, we seek out and implement sustainable initiatives that reduce the impact of our business on nature and society.
Our actions as individual companies are extremely important, but it is only through collaboration and cross-stakeholder engagement that we can create a commercially resilient, ethically responsible and ecologically sustainable food industry. As part of a farming co-operative, we have always put a real emphasis on forming mutually beneficial partnerships with our suppliers and implementing sustainable farming practices right at the top of our supply chain. We’ve grown a lot throughout our 150-year history, but our entire operation is still built on the best agricultural practices and values because we believe that sustainability is not a commercial need, but an essential responsibility.
1 Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey, Q3 2014
2 GWI: Green Awakening: making sustainability part of the awakening in 2021
3 BCG survey
For further information please contact
SVZ International B.V.
4815 NG, PO Box 9535
4801 LM, Breda
Tel: +31 76 5049 368