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We must take this chance to do things differently

by Stefano Agostini
Stefano Agostini

We have all had to do things differently this year. We have cancelled our plans, we have missed our loved ones and we have found new ways to achieve simple things that we once took for granted. We have come together and we have made things work.

That spirit of community, creativity and enterprise is exactly what we will need to make our way through the next phase of this crisis.

We have a unique chance to prioritise afresh, to look at how we do business and to make sure that we are doing our bit to support a strong recovery through and beyond the challenges of COVID-19.

Today, I am outlining five areas where Nestlé UK & Ireland can make a difference and we will take this chance to:

1. Build an even more flexible and diverse workplace

I was so impressed with the way everybody at Nestlé embraced the new working environment forced upon us earlier this year.

Our operations teams in factories and distribution centres developed new safety regimes at an incredible pace and allowed us to continue supplying the nation with food and drink all through the period of lockdown and the peak of the virus.

For our office based workers there have been different challenges: finding space at home to do the day job while managing childcare, education and, in some cases, complete isolation.

We made changes in an instant that would normally take years to evolve. My colleagues have dealt with these changes with spirit and good humour but it has not been a smooth ride. The obvious implications for mental health only serve to underline the importance of our new charity partnership with Mind announced during the lockdown.

It is obvious that there is much we can learn from this experience. Can we all have a better work-life balance? Can we reduce our travel and our carbon footprint? Is the role of the physical office going to change in the future? The answer to all of these questions is, undoubtedly, yes.

We are now reviewing everything from physical working spaces to I.T. requirements, to policies on flexible working. This is our chance to revolutionise the way we work to benefit both our people and our business.

One of the great advantages of more flexible working is the chance to open up opportunities to a bigger and more diverse pool of talent. The recent Black Lives Matter protests have been a sharp reminder of the important work that still needs to be done in this space and we have made a firm pledge to do more to make sure that our workforce reflects the diverse society that we serve.

2. Adapt our business for the future

Even before the pandemic, we were seeing huge shifts in what people want and need from a business like Nestlé.

We have felt demand grow for many of our products while people stayed at home to eat and drink. Elsewhere we have been hit much harder by the lockdown measures where our business operates in hospitality or retail.

Change is not something we shy away from. Adapting and innovating is exactly how Nestlé has grown and developed over 154 years. That approach will be more crucial than ever through this next period.

Faster and smarter distribution; greater efficiency in our manufacturing and a broader focus on digital will be familiar themes over the coming months.

Then, at the end of the year, the transition period following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union is due to come to an end. We continue to press for a trade agreement that creates minimal disruption for businesses and consumers but we must prepare for all scenarios and be ready again to adapt to the challenges that may come our way.

Above all, we need a business that is innovative, competitive and able to respond quickly to the expectations of our customers and consumers.

3. Help improve access to food

I am proud that we were able to provide more than £4 million of our products to food banks in the UK & Ireland during this crisis. We also supported the British and Irish Red Cross with around £250,000 of funding to support their crisis response.

Sadly, many people’s access to even basic food has been worsened by this crisis and food poverty will be a growing issue while we recover from the economic shock of COVID-19.

Good food, good life is what Nestlé stands for around the world. We are the world’s largest food and drink company and we are well placed to support those in our communities who are most vulnerable. We have a responsibility to do our bit.

That is why I am announcing today that we will support 8,000 families who might otherwise go hungry during the school summer holidays. Our £1 million investment to partner with Community Shop and FoodCloud will see 8,000 families receive support on behalf of our 8,000 employees in the UK and Ireland from one family to another.

We want to unlock the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone. Whether it is nutritious meals and snacks, everyday staples or life’s little pleasures we believe everybody should be able to enjoy good food and drink. And that includes our pets.

We will continue our work on other initiatives over the coming months including further product donations to our partners and I will be encouraging our people to use some of their 16,000 annual volunteering days to get out in our communities and support the recovery.

We continue to invest in our efforts to create and develop even better food and drink. We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible to enable better health and to make good nutrition accessible and affordable for everyone. We can, and will, take this chance to do even more.

4. Contribute to a green recovery

Since early in the year; newspaper copy, television air time and public debate has, understandably, been consumed by the worldwide response to this unprecedented pandemic.

While other issues may have dropped further down the agenda, they have not become any less pressing.

When we announced our ambition to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, our global CEO, Mark Schneider, described climate change as: "one of the biggest threats we face as a society" and "one of the greatest risks to the future of our business." He is right.

During the height of the lockdown we announced that all of the grid supplied electricity Nestlé uses in the UK and Ireland will now come from wind energy. We have partnered with Orsted to take around 50% of our energy needs from their Race Bank wind farm in the North Sea which matches the 50% we already procure from Community Wind Power’s Sanquhar wind farm in Scotland.

Another major priority for our industry is the question of packaging. In my role as Chair of the Food and Drink Federation’s Plastics and Packaging Task Force, I am working closely with others to explore the challenges and potential solutions in this area.

At Nestlé we are working to the ambitious target that all of our packaging will be either recyclable or reusable by 2025.

Last month we expanded the paper technology developed here in the UK at our York R&D centre to include our Smarties block. It is the first time we have used the technology at this scale and is another step towards reaching our goal.

Single-use plastics are clearly playing an important role in how we deal with the spread of COVID-19 but they cannot be a long term solution and we must return to this challenge of how we develop sustainable packaging for the future.

We will do everything we can to be part of a green recovery and take this chance to build back better for the health of our planet so that it is protected for future generations.

5. Support youth employment and education

Speaking of future generations, the long term consequences of the pandemic will have a disproportionate impact on young people.

Schools have been closed, exams have been cancelled, and employment opportunities for those at the start of their careers are likely to come under increasing pressure while industries work to rebuild.

The development of skills and education for young people has long been a passion for Nestlé. We are aiming to help 10 million young people access economic opportunities by 2030 through our global youth initiative.

And last week, in the UK, we hosted a virtual welcome day for some of the 58 people who will join us for new apprenticeships and graduate placements in September. They will join more than 200 others already in our business undertaking on-the-job training as part of our Nestlé Academy.

The restrictions caused by the pandemic will mean inductions, training and development will be much more of a challenge than normal, but it is the right thing to do to find solutions and continue with our programmes.

Over the last decade we have delivered thousands of opportunities for young people in the UK & Ireland. It is critical now that we take this chance to support those embarking on their careers during one of the most uncertain periods in living memory.

The cost and implications of this pandemic will be felt everywhere. There will be no quick fix to rebuild back to where we were at the beginning of 2020 but we can build back and we can build back better.

As an industry we must take this chance to look at how we can do things better for the benefit of our society and Nestlé is ready to play its part.