Future of Eco-Labels Debated at Sustainable Foods Summit

Practical sustainability initiatives adopted by food companies and the future role of eco-labels were extensively debated at the Sustainable Foods Summit (www.sustainablefoodssummit.com). The executive summit brought together 140 executives from various sectors of the food industry in Amsterdam on 10–11th June.

Major discussions centered on the future directions of eco-labels and third party standards. The food industry has over 500 eco-labels that represent various production and environmental aspects. However, a growing number of companies and retailers are turning away from eco-labels and focusing on building ecological brands. At the summit, two leading European retailers – Co-op Switzerland and Albert Heijn – gave details of their private labels for sustainable products. They argued that brands have greater resonance with consumer demand for sustainability products, compared to third party standards.

Organized by Organic Monitor, the Sustainable Foods Summit looked at sustainability initiatives and eco-labels adopted by the food industry to lower their ecological and social impacts. Kicking off the summit was an opening address by Irish Minister Ciarán Cuffe who highlighted the importance of government role in promoting sustainable agriculture and food production. He stated that organic and sustainable food production has major role in combating climate change, citing research that such agricultural practices involve low carbon inputs.

The sustainability initiatives session showcased pioneering sustainability initiatives in the food industry. Nadia El-Hage Scialabba from the Food & Agricultural Organisation of United Nations (FAO) highlighted sustainability frameworks to assess environmental and other impacts of food products. She highlighted the importance of multi-stakeholder participation to ensure measurement and reduction tools are effective.

With growing concern about carbon and water footprints, two food companies gave papers on their pioneering initiatives. Bruno Vanwelsenaers from Provamel, one of the leading brands of soya products in Europe, gave details on how the brand became carbon neutral this year. Provamel has reduced carbon emissions by decreasing energy usage and switching to renewable sources, whilst offsetting emissions by investing in developing countries. Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, gave details of its pioneering water footprint labeling scheme. Both companies stated they decided to develop their own labeling schemes because of the lack of widely accepted international standards.

With fair trade the fastest growing sector of the global eco-labeled food market, the second session focused on the potential of fair trade. Papers were given by three of the leading certification schemes for fair trade products: Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International (FLO), Institute for Marketecology (IMO) and Ecocert. With the latter schemes enabling growers of organic and fair-trade crops to avoid dual certification, questions were asked if FLO was considering incorporating organic or ecological aspects into its fair trade standard. The session also brought heavy discussions on the fair-trade certification of major chocolate brands, such as Kit Kat and Dairy Milk, in the UK. Questions were raised about the content of non-fair trade ingredients such as milk and wheat in such certified products. The panel also debated the importance of fair trade for growers in the northern hemisphere, whereas existing standards focus on growers in the south.

The Sustainable Foods Summit highlighted practical sustainability initiatives undertaken by food companies, using case studies of pioneering companies. Nicolas Mounard stressed the importance of ethical partnerships in the growth of Alter Eco to one of the leading companies with organic and fair-trade products in Europe. The company has plans to become one of the first carbon neutral ethical enterprises in the world. Apart from Provamel, case studies were given of Altramercato, Followfish and EOSTA. Jürg Knoll, co-founder of Followfish, gave details on its ‘track and trace’ scheme for sustainable seafood. The company has successfully managed to integrate several sustainability initiatives into its seafood business.

Craig Sams, founder and president of the global brand of ethical chocolate Green & Black’s, opened the second day of the summit with his key note on corporate ethics. His opening speech set the tone for the third session on ethical marketing. Amarjit Sahota, director of Organic Monitor, highlighted the growing importance of sustainability in the organic food industry. Rising consumer expectations and the success of retailer private labels were leading organic food companies to adopt Organic Plus Strategies, with many focusing on sustainability. The sentiment was echoed by EOSTA which gave details of the new Sustainability Flower scheme, enabling consumers to get various sustainability measures via a web-based scheme.

Also in this session, Co-op Switzerland and Albert Heijn gave details of their ethical retailing and sustainability initiatives. Co-op Switzerland has developed eight brands for ethical products that now generate about 7 percent of the company’s CHF 18.7 billion (EUR 13.6 billion) revenues. The retailer believes it has been instrumental in making Swiss consumers the largest spenders on fair trade products in Europe. Albert Heijn, the leading supermarket in the Netherlands, states sustainability is a key part of its corporate ethos. Sustainable food products are housed under its AH Puur & Eerlijk (Pure & Honest) private label, which has shown a 20 percent sales increase since its launch in summer 2009.

The last session focused on sustainable sourcing & packaging. Michele Fite from Solae highlighted the potential of soya as a sustainable ingredient to meet the world’s nutritional requirements. With demand for livestock products expected to double by 2050, there is a growing strain on agricultural land resources. Soya has an important role as a sustainable meat & dairy substitute considering 70 percent of agricultural land is used for livestock production. Soya uses over four times less land then livestock production and has much lower carbon and water footprints.

Other papers looked at traceability in the supply chain and the challenges of commodity sourcing. Dr. Helen van Hoeven from WWF stressed the importance of agriculture in biodiversity loss and outlined the future role of roundtables, such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The ecological impact of packaging was discussed by Reggs which outlined the various types of sustainable packaging available. Case studies were given of ethical products – such as organic salads, fair trade beverages and natural cosmetics – with sustainable packaging. The growing application of compostable packaging was further elaborated by Novamont.

In the closing remarks of the summit, some of the major debates and discussions were summarized. The chair highlighted major questions raised at the summit that included: What is a sustainable food product? How do you define sustainability? Will there ever be a sustainability standard, or uniform sustainability eco-label? Is third party certification or private labels the way forward? What is the future of carbon, water and energy footprints? How can eco-labels meet rising consumer expectations? The next editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit plan to address and debate such questions.

Sustainable Foods Summit

The Sustainable Foods Summit is a series of international summits that focuses on the leading issues the food industry faces concerning sustainability and eco-labels, such as organic, fair trade, etc. The proceedings of the Amsterdam summit (10-11th June 2010) are available for a small professional fee.

The next editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit will take place in North America and Europe in 2011. The dates and venues will be announced shortly. More information is available from www.sustainablefoodssummit.com

The summit pictures http://www.sustainablefoodssummit.com/galleryjune2010/summitpics.htm

Further Information

For further information on the Sustainable Foods Summit, including more summit pictures, please contact:

Ms. Tina Gill

Marketing Manager, Organic Monitor

Tel: (44) 20 8567 0788

Fax: (44) 20 8567 7164

Email: [email protected]

About Organic Monitor

Organic Monitor is a specialist research & consulting company that focuses on the global organic & related product industries. Since our formation in 2001, we have been providing a range of business services to operators in high-growth ethical & sustainable industries. Our services include market research publications, business & technical consulting, summits, seminars & workshops. Visit us at www.organicmonitor.com

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