Sustainability remains top of the industry’s agenda

Two of the standout developments for the confectionery sector in recent days have concerned very differing areas of sustainability – Tony’s Chocolonely delivering its series of ‘look-alike’ chocolate bars, and Nestle’s global first in moving from plastic to paper packaging.

Taking the first of those issues, the Netherlands-based ethically-founded confectionery business pulls no punches with its bold product release.

According to Tony’s assertion, “Time’s up” for the cocoa industry, twenty years after sustainability initiatives were first put in place, the company believes that not enough comparative progress has been made on the ground to rid the sector of child labour in core markets of Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Its assessment might not be one that everyone in the industry would concur with, given the multiple efforts of individual manufacturers to place a spotlight on the issues with their own, as well as collective programmes of action. But despite the best efforts of the sector, it is widely acknowledged that there remains some considerable work to yet be done on this vital area.

Above all, the biggest sticking point in the view of Tony’s Chocolonely is over the consideration that many such cocoa intervention programmes, targets on reducing child labour have been part of wider voluntary schemes – which it believes should be made mandatory in nature.

For close observers of this major issue, the reality is somewhat less black and white in nature – the region does indeed have its own labour standards, supported by industry’s desire to make major inroads into eradicating children’s involvement with the cocoa value chain. The crux of the matter is in fact in delivering on due diligence, transparency and enforcement of agreed standards, which is especially challenging given the troubling statistic from a NORC at the University of Chicago report revealed last year that 1.56 million minors in Ghana and Ivory Coast are still exposed to hazardous child labour. Without this matter being resolved, the future viability of the industry is indeed called into question.

As for the other big sustainability step this week, Nestle’s move to place 100% of its Smarties range with recyclable paper rather than plastic is huge news for the sector. While there have been some commendable efforts from smaller manufacturers over the past few years in this direction of travel, the fact there is now prominent movement by a major business will inevitably prompt others to follow in its wake.

The company revealed at a launch event this week that there had been considerable technical investment into its packaging move – which will see 250 million plastic packs removed from shelves each year, which will, crucially, be replaced by sustainably sourced paper alternatives. It’s a win on all fronts, and must surely pave the way for similar announcements throughout this year from others.

So, as these notable developments highlight, sustainability is front and centre of many companies’ agendas as we continue to navigate challenging pandemic-affected times. Clearly, it’s a broad, yet vital area of subject interest that we shall be focusing on as part of our World Confectionery Conference which is set to move online for this year due to the pandemic (taking place on 1 June).

While we had been anticipating finally getting to meet up in person for our physical event that had been scheduled for October in Brussels, world events surrounding the pandemic have intervened. It is still uncertain as to whether conditions would permit indoor meetings at that stage over the ongoing vaccine rollout throughout this year, making online the most appropriate way forward in this instance (see our newsletter lead story this week for more).

Bearing this in mind, please do be part of the discussion and debate in the build up to the conference with any subject areas that you would like to see brought up, which we can relay to those who will be speaking at the industry showcase, which is set to highlight some excellent work being done by the sector amid particularly testing times.

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