Fairtrade, organic, low air miles: What does sustainability really mean?

By Caroline SCOTT-THOMAS contact

- Last updated on GMT

Worlee says it aims to avoid air freight as much as possible
Worlee says it aims to avoid air freight as much as possible

Related tags: Sustainability

European food companies increasingly are using exotic fruits like dried mango, papaya and pineapple to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace – but at what cost to local farmers and the environment?

German supplier Worlee is one importer that has been asking itself how to ensure sustainable supply, and finding that the answer is complex.

“The problem is really ‘what is sustainability?’”​ quality manager Dr Norbert Kolb told FoodNavigator. “There is a wide range of definitions.”

He said that the company asks it suppliers what they are doing, in terms of energy use, wider environmental impacts and workers’ rights.  

“It is important that we have these materials available for the next years,”​ he said. “We advise them to be aware about sustainability. It is in our interest and the interest of the suppliers.”

However, Worlee’s role goes beyond what its suppliers are doing – who does it engage in business? And how can it reduce its own environmental footprint?

Kolb said the company tries to avoid importing by air freight as much as possible to reduce emissions, and it works with smaller producers in the organic field in particular, which allows it to speak with farmers and give them advice on sustainability issues more easily.

“Our customers are asking us, ‘what are you doing to ensure sustainability?’”​ Kolb said.

Part of Worlee’s answer to that question lies in a rapidly growing supply of organically sourced ingredients, which account for 40% of its portfolio today, compared to about 5% ten years ago. Fairtrade certification is also growing – and the company aims to expand in both these areas – although Fairtrade certified products still only represent about 1% of its business.

“We hope that this trend of consumer behaviour will increase,”​ Kolb said. “…Here in Germany we have the rather unfortunate trend of people buying food as cheap as possible, which is totally contra to having high quality food.”

He added: “We are not unique, but sustainability is part of our company policy.”

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