of vegetables traceable* in 2019
Vegetables are an increasingly important raw material for us. As we look to inspire healthier living, we are putting nutritious products at the forefront of our portfolio, with simpler and more natural raw materials. These ingredients must be nutritious, but we also want to ensure that they have been grown with respect for people and the environment. We added vegetables to our list of key raw materials in 2018, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because more and more of our consumers expect this from us.
* These percentages cover all vegetables purchased by Nestlé, excluding those purchased by joint ventures or co-manufacturers
Our vegetables supply chain
There is an increasing need for vegetables that are available year-round, produced in a safe and resource-efficient manner, and of a consistently high quality. This demand leads to the proliferation of industrial farms and the adoption of rapidly evolving technologies. These include mechanization of harvesting activities, use of satellites to analyze soils and crops, and widespread use of chemical substances. Small-scale farmers struggle to keep up, and the environment suffers from some of these innovations and large-scale operations.
As the vegetable industry continues to expand, and large-scale farms continue to dominate, the risks to the environment and small-scale farmers increase. Land use is intensifying, and more and more land is being converted to vegetable farming, which means an increase in the use of water, fertilizers and chemicals. This trend, along with diminishing market prices, is taking its toll on farmers, soil health and biodiversity, and the quantity and quality of water.
As a consequence, our efforts must not only ensure risks are tackled but also support small-scale farmers to improve their conditions.
We purchase many vegetables, including carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, horseradish, chickpeas and spinach. Our main sources of vegetables are Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, the UK, Ukraine and the United States.
Our approach to sourcing vegetables responsibly
Among consumers, there is a shift toward healthier products and a desire to know more about what goes into our foods. As well as making our products healthier, we are putting more ‘kitchen cupboard’ ingredients in our products. These are ingredients consumers recognize, so they are familiar with what goes into their foods. Consumers also want to know where these ingredients are coming from and how they were made.
Hence, traceability and compliance are at the heart of our approach, and our goal is to ensure respect for ethical standards, reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices and enhance biodiversity within our supply chain.
As a major purchaser of vegetables, we recognize the social and environmental challenges and risks of the industry, and we are working proactively with our suppliers to not only participate in addressing them, but also go beyond compliance and create shared value for as many actors as possible within our supply chain. The program aims to ‘ensure respect for ethical standards, reduce the environmental impact of agricultural practices and enhance biodiversity within our vegetables supply chain.’ At the strategy’s heart is our Responsible Sourcing Standard (pdf, 2.4Mb).
To help us successfully design and implement our strategy, we have partnered with Fundación Global Nature (FGN), a Spanish nonprofit organization that has spent 25 years protecting nature and biodiversity. We are also working with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), which provides innovative agricultural solutions to the most pressing environmental and social issues of our time.
Starting in 2017, we began to identify where to focus our efforts. This began with supplier audits within our processed tomato supply chain, where independent verification firms checked whether our direct suppliers were implementing our Responsible Sourcing Standard (pdf, 2.4Mb). Following these audits, we realized that because the industry’s focus had traditionally been more on quality and food safety, some labor and environmental aspects had been left behind.
Since identifying these issues, we have worked with our direct suppliers to map our supply chain right down to the processors that receive the vegetables directly from farmers. SAN is playing a crucial role in helping us with the mapping process. It also verifies our processors’ traceability management system when certification doesn’t exist.
Once the processors have been identified, we ask them to organize farm assessments that will provide a baseline for the situation at each sourcing location. In order to limit the burden of these assessments on farmers, we leverage the Farm Sustainability Assessment ethical standard from the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform. This way, other industry players do not need to request additional assessments from the same farmers. We then expect each processor to develop and implement an improvement plan in all farms supplying them, in order to help them meet our Responsible Sourcing Standard.
In order to make sure our efforts are driven toward the right locations, processors located in low-risk countries (as per Maplecroft risk indices) are not requested to organize farm assessments, and the associated volumes are considered as responsibly sourced.
In 2019, the program covered nine vegetables (tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, spinach, horseradish, potatoes, garlic, chickpeas and onions) sourced through 66?suppliers. With each year, new vegetables and geographies will be added into the scope to expand the program’s reach, enabling it to come closer to our goals. The challenges ahead are immense and crucial for every stakeholder in our supply chain. We chose to expand our program gradually to ensure continuous, step-by-step and concrete progress.
To hold our suppliers and ourselves accountable as well as driving industry-wide transparency, we have published the list of our vegetables Tier 1 suppliers and their processing sites (pdf, 0.4Mb), along with the country of origin.
As we drive the implementation of our Responsible Sourcing Standard (pdf, 2.4Mb), we are also dedicated to communicating clearly with customers our robust and dedicated responsible sourcing practices.
We want to initiate a positive change across the farms supplying our vegetables. Since we mainly purchase processed raw materials from our suppliers, we aim to drive this change at the farms supplying them. We have increased the number of involved suppliers to 66,?together covering more than 44% of our global vegetables supply. Behind these suppliers are large-scale farming operations as well as farmers growing vegetables on only a few hectares. The program provides a toolbox that can be used to support all kinds of farmers to improve their practices and sustain their operations. Nestlé provides an operational framework and supports the suppliers embarking on this journey with technical and material assistance.
With a selection of our suppliers, we go further than compliance and help the farmers and suppliers to more carefully manage their impact on the environment and the community around them. We are beginning to support them in implementing some key agricultural practices around water, soils, nutrients, crop protection and energy, which our partner FGN identified would provide the greatest impact. We will also help them to launch and implement their own biodiversity enhancement roadmap. To help these suppliers implement their improvements, we leverage SAN’s international network of partners. In 2019, we actively worked with seven of our suppliers in various European countries on this part of the program.