Making a Marque

 

To have credibility as an ethical marque it is important to embrace sustainability in all its forms. Nestlé tells Footprint how the company is making real change happen across all three sustainability channels – economic, environmental and social – on the three major raw materials it sources, namely coffee, cocoa and milk.

Every five minutes enough Nestle Kit Kat bars are manufactures to outstack the Eiffel Tower; one year’s production would stretch around the London Underground more than 350 times. It’s a popular product, with 47 bars eaten every second. In that same second, across the world, around 4,600 cups of Nescafé coffee will also be drunk.

 

That’s a lot of cocoa, it’s a lot of milk and it’s a lot of coffee. But it’s also a lot of responsibility for the manufacturer.

 

Nestlé is the largest buyer of coffee in the world and one of the top five confectionery companies. It sources millions of tonnes of raw materials, mainly cocoa, coffee and milk, in order to make its products.

As such a big buyer, Nestlé has the opportunity to make real change happen across all three sustainability channels – economic, environmental and social – on all three of the major raw materials it sources.

 

One of the key sustainability issues facing the business is responsible sourcing. It’s an issue that is front of mind for many of its customers and consumers. Where have the products come from? How have they been produced? What environmental impacts were there? What returns are the farmers receiving? These are all questions that are being asked more than ever – and for good reason. After all, responsible sourcing can bring about considerable economic and social benefits to thousands of communities across the world.

 

Take milk. Nestlé buys 12 million tonnes of milk from more than 30 countries. In Pakistan, the company’s experts are teaching female livestock workers – the primary managers of livestock in the region – how to improve animal healthcare and milk production processes.

 

Meanwhile, in East Africa technical assistance on feeding, breeding, milking, food safety management, production and quality assurance is being offered through a partnership with the East African Dairy Development Board. As Tim Innocent, Nestlé UK Head of Purchasing (Direct Materials), explained at the Footprint Forum last September, the reasoning for all this “isn’t just about getting supplies, it’s about looking at the core of these communities and improving their livelihood”.

 

The same goes for UK farmers. Nestlé has chosen First Milk as a partner to work on a sustainable milk production project which will include ensuring better water management. This drive to work with farmers and enlist the help of expert partners to maximise progress isn’t confined to milk. In fact, Nestlé’s more high profile relationships have come in coffee and chocolate with projects involving the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Foundation respectively.

 

For just over 12 months now, all four- finger Kit Kat bars sold in the UK and Ireland have been certified Fairtrade. The announcement followed the October 2009 launch of Nestlé’s global ‘Cocoa Plan’, representing a £65 million investment over the next 10 years in programmes to address the economic, social and environmental issues facing cocoa farming communities.

 

There’s a similar plan for coffee, called ‘Beyond The Cup – The Nescafé Plan’, which was launched late last summer. On that plan Nestlé is working with the Rainforest Alliance, as well as other partners from the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the 4C Association (Common Code for the Coffee Community Association). Around £325 million will be invested over 10 years in coffee projects to help ‘optimise’ the supply chain.

 

Cynics may suggest the big-money initiatives and PR fanfare are simply a means to boost reputation. However, there is a commercial reality and essential longevity to the moves.

 

Harriet Lamb, Fairtrade Foundation Executive Director, has said that the significant volumes of cocoa that go into making Kit Kat will “open whole new possibilities for the farmers in Côte d’Ivoire [Ivory Coast], giving them a more sustainable livelihood and the chance to plan for a better future”.

 

Indeed. But in securing a better future for the farmers, Nestlé can also secure its future. There has been an increasing migration away from agriculture in developing (and developed) countries as people seek the higher wages promised in urban areas. Cocoa farming has become less attractive, but the farming fraternity is ageing and the stresses of water and climate change are starting to impact on harvests, too.

 

Nestlé realises – and has done for many years – that the most effective way for the world’s five million cocoa farmers to increase their income is by increasing the quality and productivity of their harvests. So, by combining the funding of farmer training and education schemes with an extensive tree plantlet programme, Nestlé’s ‘Cocoa Plan’ aims to give farmers the best and most effective means to better their livelihoods.

 

Nestlé has, in fact, been working in the Ivory Coast, one of the poorest countries in the world, for over 50 years. The company has pioneered techniques to produce higher quality seedlings and help farmers increase productivity, investing over £35 million in sustainability initiatives in the last 15 years and supplying over 17 million coffee and cocoa plantlets to producer countries.

 

But by certifying its biggest UK confectionery brand, the company can ‘bring to life’ a shared ambition between Nestlé and the Fairtrade Foundation. Also, by working with organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance, the Sustainable Agriculture Network and others on coffee, the overall aim is to empower farmers to help them improve their lives and give them a better deal in return for high– quality products.

 

Both initiatives mark huge progress in the company’s sustainability drive – but they are more than just a marque. Tensie Whelan, President of the Rainforest Alliance, perhaps summed it up best when she said: “The Nescafé Plan is about looking ahead, to the future of coffee farming.”

 

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