‘Now is the time to scale for impact’: Griffith leveraging economies of scale for ‘cost-effective’ sustainable ingredients

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-oleksajewicz
Pic: GettyImages-oleksajewicz

Related tags Griffith Foods Sustainability

Herb and spice group Griffith Foods Europe has set a series of goals to boost its impact and contribute to a more sustainable food system. The company believes that by building scale it can counteract one of the biggest barriers to sustainable procurement – price. We hear from Arnaud Le Guen, Sustainability Lead.

By 2025, Griffith Foods wants 100% of its herbs, spices and vegetables to come from certified sources and 100% of its supply base to be EcoVadis certified. In the next five years, the company will expand its Sustainably Sourced farming programme to support over 10,000 local farmers and their communities.

Alongside social programmes, Griffith is also tackling its environmental footprint. It aims to reduce water and energy consumption by at least 20% (versus 2018) and switch to 100% renewable energy. By 2030, the company says it will be carbon neutral for scope one and two emissions. By 2025, 100% of its waste will be recycled and 100% of its packaging will be recyclable or compostable.

“We have set clear, time-based goals which are shared with and measured across the business. For example, our R&D teams are working closely with our partners and customers to transform our entire product portfolio to comply with at least one of our Health & Nutrition descriptors (organic, clean label, elimination, reduction, and fortification), aiming to achieve at least 80% transformation by 2025,”​ Sustainability Lead Arnaud Le Guen revealed.

All of this comes at a cost. But, Le Guen told us, ‘it’s also about making a choice’. That is, to accept that you’re using more expensive ingredients in your portfolio when there are ‘easier and cheaper commodity alternatives’.

“We know that the benefits of increased sustainability are not just measured by profits. We see the value of these returns in our farmer health and education programmes with improved agricultural and environmental practices helping to protect and increase biodiversity by improving soil, water and pesticide management.

“We believe that in order to live our purpose, these choices matter and now is the time to scale for impact.”

The family-owned ingredients supplier wants to rapidly ramp up its scale by doubling the size of its European business and tripling its bottom line by 2027. Growing the volume of sustainable raw materials that Griffith sources will extend its impact to a greater number of suppliers. Significantly, Griffith believes, it will also help drive down the expense associated with sustainable sourcing.

“We want to consistently grow our value chain with a sustainably sourced raw material stream that will also be cost effective for us and our customers. Our own sustainably sourced herb and spice programme has grown over the past few years in our new arm, Terova, which is devoted to the supply of sustainably sourced spices, herbs, botanicals and innovative ingredients.

“As these growing programmes develop and expand, we will be able to offer a wider range and more cost-effective alternatives to current commodity materials,”​ Le Guen predicted.

The tide is turning towards sustainable sourcing

Le Guen does not present Griffith’s work as blazing a trail in the sustainability space. Rather, he suggested, the company is part of a rising tide of action to address environmental and social issues.

“Let’s be honest, there are a great many companies focussed on improving their level of sustainability and reducing the impact they are having on the world, in that respect we are certainly not a pioneer.”

Nevertheless, he said that the company has an opportunity to make a ‘real difference’ to lives and environments in some of the ‘poorest and least developed’ places in the world because it is active in the herbs and spices market.

Griffith also wants to make a difference in the communities in which it operates, he continued. “We also want to make positive contributions in our local areas where we manufacture and in our regions, whether that be through better environmental management at our sites or through volunteering in our communities and with our key partners. It may be a cliché to say that we are on a journey, but we are taking new steps every day.”

Recent progress includes signing up to the UN Global Compact, an initiative based on industry commitments to uphold and implement sustainability principles and practices. “It’s a call to action to companies around the world to work together and as individual companies to create a better, more sustainable world,”​ Le Guen elaborated.

Each signatory is held accountable to annual reporting on the 10 principles that make up the compact. By signing up, Griffith agrees to do business responsibly by aligning our strategies and operations with the 10 principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption and to take strategic actions to advance broader societal goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Progress despite the long shadow of COVID-19

La Guen said that COVID-19 had a significant impact on the company through 2020 and into 2021.

“Supply routes have been impacted and we have been required to test some of the strong relationships we have with our supply base to ensure we can source the right materials on time to provide a continuous service to our customers.”

Here, traceability has been integral. “Our work on trust and transparency has improved our traceability practices enabling us to identify and mitigate supply chain risks before they cause impact. This has helped to keep disruption to our customers' product supply to a minimum.”

Despite COVID-related disruption, progress on the company’s sustainability initiatives was made. The company increased the number of suppliers enrolled in its EcoVadis certification programme. “We far exceeded our initial goal of 42% of our supplier spend to be awarded a medal in the scheme and went on to achieve over 70%. This year we aim to achieve 80% of our spend in the scheme which is still way ahead of our initial 3-year progress plan,”​ the sustainability expert revealed.

Griffith believes that certification has an important role to play in the development of more sustainable supply chains. When sustainability has become ‘fashionable and trendy’ there is a clear risk that actions will be diluted and used for the purpose of greenwashing. “Certification through reputable globally recognized organizations not only endorses and builds credibility for our efforts, it also accelerates the learning and amplifies results when you work with various focussed expert organisations and industry groups to underline our commitments.”

Griffith is currently partnered with EcoVadis and the Rainforest Alliance to independently validate processes and to provide a benchmark for the continued improvement. During 2020, the ingredient supplier expanded its certified sustainable raw material portfolio to include turmeric, amongst other items.

And while COVID may have proven disruptive to Griffith’s business – like so many – the group has taken some key learnings that it will apply to future strategy.

“What COVID has done, in a positive way, is to highlight that we need to accelerate our programmes and look at some of our practices in a different light. We have identified some gaps and also recognised that we can utilise new tools, for example remote working from home and reducing some of our carbon impact and associated pollution.”

COP26: An opportunity for ‘real meaningful goals’

In a broader context, La Guen believes that COVID-19 has highlighted the need to accelerate action to society at large. For this reason, he is hopeful that the high-level COP26, which will be held in Glasgow later this year, will result in agreement around some strong commitments on climate action that have ‘previously been side-lined’.

“The last year has brought into sharp focus the need for humanity to really confront the difficult issues that have been side-lined over previous discussions. We know that there are some uncomfortable truths that we must now tackle, and this meeting is an opportunity to put some real, meaningful goals in place.

“COVID has forced us to make changes which have resulted in unexpected benefits of reduced carbon emissions, lower energy consumption and less pollution, which shows progress can be made. Now we need to build on these learnings and move forward with increased collaboration and new optimism to achieve our universal goals. We can all play our part, every positive change we make at an individual or community level will ultimately benefit us and our future generations.”

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