INTERVIEW: Barry Callebaut Looks to Meet 2025 100% Sustainable Chocolate Goals

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06 Feb 2017 --- The future of cocoa farming currently looks bleak and requires intervention from industry in order to protect the long term future of cocoa and chocolate. 60% of cocoa farmers in West Africa are living in extreme poverty. As a direct result of cocoa farmer poverty, it is estimated that more than 2 million children are working on cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana alone. Deforestation is one of the biggest causes of global warming and threatening the ecosystem that provides chocolate ingredients.

With annual sales of about CHF6.7 billion (€6.1 billion/US$6.8 billion) in fiscal year 2015/16, the Zurich-based Barry Callebaut Group is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products – from sourcing and processing cocoa beans to producing the finest chocolates, including chocolate fillings, decorations and compounds. Antoine de Saint-Affrique, CEO of Barry Callebaut recently stated: “We have been pioneering sustainability in cocoa and chocolate for many years, and we have made great progress. But despite all our efforts, only 23% of the cocoa beans we source are from sustainability programs. We are determined to change this and have 100% of our chocolate and its ingredients sustainably sourced by 2025.”

The company therefore launched a comprehensive sustainability strategy that addresses the key sustainability challenges in the chocolate supply chain at the end of November 2016: “Forever Chocolate.” In order to secure the future of chocolate, Barry Callebaut’s new sustainability strategy includes four targets that the company expects to achieve by 2025 and that address the biggest sustainability challenges in the chocolate supply chain:

• Eradicate child labor from its supply chain;
• Lift more than 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty;
• Become carbon and forest positive;
• Have 100% sustainable ingredients in all its products.

At ISM 2017 in Cologne, the company was highlighting its “Forever Chocolate” program and FoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Peter Boone, Chief Innovations & Quality Officer about these ambitious targets and how they will be audited. The video interview can be found here!

“We should not underestimate the severity of the challenges. We all know about the issue In West Africa, the poverty of which some of our farmers are still living in. Of course if you have to live in that kind of environment and conditions, it’s not the kind of business you want to be in for the long run. We are in need of a farmer community which is thriving. By lifting over 500,000 cocoa farmers out of poverty by 2025, we hope that we can definitively eradicate by 2025 child labor from our supply chains,” he explains. 

Click to EnlargeBut with 2.1 million children currently in child labor in the cocoa sector, according to the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), how can this issue truly be achieved? 

“With ICI, we have rolled out a child labor monitoring system, which means that we are actively involved in these communities. We are there to talk to parents about why it is important for their children to go to school and why children should not be working in the fields instead. Our reports have indicated that child labor exists and we cannot close our eyes to this. We are tackling it head on. We cannot just circle around it,  we must come up with solutions,” he notes.

But unless the whole industry follows suit on these types of commitments, will it be financially feasible? “We think that if we scale these kinds of interventions, if we roll them out in these communities, it will not be a cost issue in the long run. At the end of the day, it is just about being competitive, it will be something that this industry will have to follow and promote, and therefore make sustainable chocolate,” says Boone. 

For Boone, a big part of this program is about making a healthier community, a thriving community with better productivity, where the farmer achieves more value from his farm and will therefore get a higher return than others. “With the right training, we are going to help farmers to increase their yields, to make sure that they can grow productively using the right inputs and growing techniques. It’s not all related to money,” he adds.

One of the biggest challenges involved in achieving the company’s goals of sustaining the future of chocolate relates to increasing yields, whereby younger trees need to be planted and those older than 35 years removed. But with the average size of farms in West Africa at just 2.5-3 hectares, with some 1000 trees per hectare, making this change can prove to be a major financial blow for small farmers, who will therefore require microfinancing to cover this gap. “We have to help them through that period. Ideally, what we think now is around 5 years , the average time for a young cocoa tree to start bearing  fruit, where we give them the kind of capital, to get them through that period of planting,” he explains. 

It offers no guarantees for a long term commitment of course, but Boone is confident. “by building a relationship and having a presence in a community, it builds trust and we can build up that relationship. This concept is not new to the world of farming, there are a lot of examples and therefore a lot of farmers and partners will want to step into this for the future,” he notes.

A key focus for the next 2-3 years will therefore be on microfinancing West African farmers, beginning with a pilot that will eventually help 100,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire get access to credit. Another similar project is already at a planning stage. “I’m absolutely sure that if we prove we can turn these communities around and turn them into prospering farmers, there will be enough impact in financing out there to support those models,” he notes. 

Of course another area will be to look further afield in terms of sourcing. “We want to have cocoa farmer communities that thrive and we want to have that in all the 40 origin countries where we source our beans. Of course the situations are different between countries like Brazil, Malaysia or Indonesia and the Ivory Coast. Each country will require its own set of interventions to deliver in terms of these objectives, which we will have for all countries.”

But the lion’s share of cocoa is still predominantly sourced from West Africa and will be for the foreseeable future. “Barry Callebaut has a history of working in West Africa, and that is why a lot of our intervention and a lot of work is focused there. We are committed to those countries and those farmers there,” he adds. 

But how will we know if the company has met their targets by 2025? “On these types of topics it is very important to be transparent and open about what you are doing and where you are. We have translated these commitments into a clear set of key performance indicators (KPIs), which we will report on an annual basis. We will be very open on where we are and if there are gaps towards our ambitions, we will say what we are going to do to close them.”

He notes that it is critical to build trust with partners and consumers in terms of transparency on what they are doing in the field and where the money goes. “It’s not that we have all the answers and we are still nervous about setting the commitments. But partnerships will help us in making overall progress,” he concludes. 

A video interview with Peter Boone can be viewed here!

By Robin Wyers & Elizabeth Kenward

Barry Callebaut

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Barry Callebaut is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa and chocolate – from the cocoa bean to the finest chocolate product. Barry Callebaut is present in 30 countries, operates around 45 production facilities and employs a diverse and dedicated workforce of about 6,000 people. Barry Callebaut serves the entire food industry focusing on industrial food manufacturers, artisans and professional users of chocolate (such as chocolatiers, restaurant chefs, pastry chefs or bakers), the latter with its two global brands Callebaut® and Cacao Barry®. Barry Callebaut is the global leader in cocoa and chocolate innovations and provides a comprehensive range of services in the fields of product development, processing, training and marketing. Cost leadership is another important reason why global as well as local food manufacturers work together with Barry Callebaut. Through its broad range of sustainability initiatives and research activities, the company works with farmers, farmer organizations and other partners to help ensure future supplies of cocoa and improve farmer livelihoods.

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