100% Traceable: Olam’s tech links producers and farmers through data

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By Kristine Sherred contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Olam, Olam International, Cocoa, Cocoa powder, Cocoa supply chain, Technology, Traceability, Sustainability, Natural ingredients, Chocolate

The cocoa and spice supplier unveiled sustainability goals in 2017 with a 2020 goal of nurturing a ‘fully traceable’ cocoa supply chain. We discussed progress with Olam's North American innovation lead, when we caught up with him at IFT.

“We’ve been working on getting a fully traceable supply chain from the moment we started,”​ Wouter Stomph, product and innovation lead for Olam North America, told us at the International Food Technologists’ annual expo in New Orleans earlier this month.

Stomph said the company is confident it can achieve its 2020 goals, but he cautions, “As sustainability, it doesn’t really have an end goal: We’re looking beyond 2020.”

Later this year, Olam will release its first impact report, which will represent the tangible effects of setting such goals, which can seem ambitious or esoteric in theory.

“We’ve done a lot of things over the past years,”​ he said. “We have a ton of metrics and a lot – a lot, a lot – of data. What is the impact that we’ve really had on the communities, on the supply chain and eventually also on our products? We’ve distributed countless amounts of seedlings… has this really had an impact on yield?

“We’ve trained thousands and thousands of farmers. What is really the impact on the livelihood of that farmer?”​ he continued. 

If you build it…

To understand these effects, Olam has focused on data collection and, importantly, traceability. Based on the United Nations’ development targets, it selected 10 of those deemed ‘most vital’ to the supply chain and, Stomph emphasized, cocoa communities – “because that is really who we touch.”

“Where Olam really differentiates is that we have hundreds of people, boots on the ground, that are part of those communities and interacting with those communities on a daily basis. Which of these [targets] are essential for cocoa communities?”

The supplier developed its own technology called AtSource to give its farmers and customers on-the-ground information.

Clients have access to three tiers, starting with an entry-level version and moving to AtSource+ and AtSource∞ (announced as AtSource-plus and infinity, respectively). The middle tier, for instance, provides granular data on bean origin – down to the region.

“The customer doesn’t just know on a country level where it comes from, but much more on a regional level, and can follow that bean or that product all the way through on the supply chain – and can access all of that data on a very convenient platform,”​ explained Stomph.

…the products will come

At IFT, Olam showcased a line of value cocoa powders milled from cake in the USA at the company’s new facility in Bolingbrook, Illinois, about 10 miles from its innovation center in Willowbrook outside Chicago.

The streamlined Huysman portfolio two natural and three alkalized cocoa powders “that are very complementary to our premium deZaan brand – and our brand is called Huysman after the founder of deZaan,” ​said Stomph.

The natural powder “taps in with the natural trend, and it really taps into that natural indulgence,” ​he added.

“Natural cocoa powders are used in a whole array of applications, and it works very well in bakery, so that’s why we featured it in a brownie [at IFT]. But we really want to make that link between natural and good-for-you because still to this day, too many people have an assumption or an association that good-for-you products are not necessarily the tastiest products. With our cocoa powders, and especially our natural cocoa powders from the US, that’s no longer the case.”

  • Check out the video for more on Olam's sustainability progress.

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