Lars de Keijser: “You have to be aware of the (environmental) impact of your product.”

SMEs should also start asking sustainability questions

While the sustainability issues still mainly lie with the multinationals, SMEs in the food industry must also prepare themselves for the questions they will receive and in turn also have to ask their suppliers. Lars de Keijser: “It is important to be well informed and prepared so that not every questionnaire becomes a major administrative hurdle in the future.”

“Just like with food safety and quality 25 years ago, you now see all kinds of different standards, norms and questionnaires in the field of sustainability.” Lars de Keijser is a specialised sustainability consultant for KTBA, a subsidiary of Merieux Nutrisciences, and advises his customers to be ready to meet all sustainability requirements in the foreseeable future and to be able to answer customer questions.

Harmonisation of standards
De Keijser: “With food safety, you saw that all those different standards were increasingly harmonised and are now mainstream. You can also see a similar trend in sustainability at the moment. The various standards, labels and quality marks are increasingly being harmonised or combined. An example is the mergers of UTZ and Rainforest Alliance, but also IIRC and SASB.”

SMEs must also report
“For the food industry, the EU Farm to Fork strategy outlines all kinds of scenarios and goals in the field of sustainability”, De Keijser continues. “One thing that emerges from this is the harmonisation of sustainability reporting. The new Corporate Social Responsibility Directive (CSRD) states that it is the intention that many more companies will report on what they are doing in the field of sustainability. The larger (> 50 million euro revenue) and/or listed SMEs will soon also fall under this directive, for example.”

New European standard
“A new European reporting standard is currently being developed, in which current standards such as GRI, SASB or CDP serve as inspiration”, De Keijser explains. An important question from the industry will be whether a company will be compliant with that new European standard by meeting one of the current standards. “Unfortunately, it is yet unclear,” says De Keijser. “Just as it is not yet clear whether you are compliant with the current standards if you meet the European standard.”

Scope 3 will become more important
De Keijser estimates that this European standard will enter into force in January 2024, accompanied by a transition period. “It is important that SMEs realise that they have to start reporting. Requirements from the new standard will also reach them via the retailers. Retailers will increasingly approach their suppliers with questions such as: can you provide us with information about the carbon footprint of the product you supply? The trend is that these scope 3 emissions are becoming increasingly relevant. That is not the emissions that occur on location, such as gas (scope 1) or the emissions of electricity consumed by the company (scope 2), but it concerns the emissions and consumption in the value chain. What raw materials are used, what does the logistics chain look like, how is the product packaged and, in some cases, how is the product used and recycled.”

“We can help our clients identify the most important themes in their industry that are important to the company and its stakeholders (also known as material themes). We can contextualise, what will be asked in the future? From the perspective of the history of QA and food safety, we know the food sector well, and we are very familiar with the operational reality of our customers. After a selection of important sustainability themes has been made, we help the customer to formulate policy and to embed themes in objectives, performance indicators and management systems. If, for example, retailer X asks for CO2 data, these can easily be reported via the management system. With our services, our customers can rest assured that they are covered in terms of requirements from the market, supply chain and legislation.”

Eco-Score soon alongside Nutri-Score?
De Keijser: “In France, the Eco-Score is already mentioned on various products and in the Netherlands, Lidl has already tested the Eco-Score in five supermarkets. It is a simple way to provide insight into whether the product is good for the environment. It is a good development, but it also makes it clear that the entire food industry must thus delve into the matter.”

Packaging is becoming more and more sustainable
Another sustainability trend that KTBA sees is the focus on packaging. “Packaging is becoming more and more sustainable, plastic is being phased out. However, the packaging materials must be food-grade and therefore cannot simply be recycled. And compostable packaging sometimes contains chemicals that are not allowed in the landfill. So, quite a complex matter! Parent organisation Merieux Nutrisciences carries out many tests, among other things, to screen packaging portfolios. What is it? What is the environmental impact? Are the claims made correct? For example, by having a life cycle analysis or shelf-life study performed, you as a company can make informed decisions.”

Food fraud and origin traceability research is growing
In order to be sure that a product does not contain raw materials of non-sustainable, or of lower quality, origin, there is a growing demand for research into food fraud and origin traceability. De Keijser: “Databases and mathematical models can be used to analyse whether the content actually originates in-country or region X. There is often a higher price for certain (sustainable) products or raw materials and then you want to be sure that there is no fraud.”

Lars de Keijser, KTBA:
“It is important to start identifying the most important sustainability themes now.”

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