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Nestlé talks Palm Oil at The Ingredients Show

Nestlé UK & Ireland rolled up at The Food Shows this week, the huge three day event (8-10 April at the NEC, Birmingham) included The Ingredients Show, Farm & Deli Show, National Convenience Shop Show and the Forecourt Show.

The number of new and exciting products on display proved innovation is alive and thriving in the UK, with the number of start-ups in attendance truly impressive. We spotted emerging trends like highly ionised water (beneficial for stomach/gut health we were told), flavoured spring waters using only unwanted and leftover fruit (reducing food waste), and more products then ever made exclusively of plants, including a raft of biodegradable packaging (the slew of new plant based products shows no signs of slowing down). There was a noticeable bent towards sustainability, whether around ingredients, packaging or even on the mock car forecourt, where the latest fast electric car chargers were proudly displayed.

anna turrell nestle uki head of sustainability
Photo: Nestlé UKI Head of Sustainability, Anna Turrell

In keeping with the sustainability theme, our Head of Sustainability, Anna Turrell joined a panel made of experts at The Ingredients Show Education Theatre, to discuss a topic high on many agendas in the industry – Palm Oil – is a sustainable future possible?

education theatre ingredients show
The panel: Anna Turrell, Christine Clark from CDP, Inke Van Der Slujis from the RSPO, Penny Coasts from Solutions for retail brands and Katy Askew (Chair) from FoodNavigator

Surely too huge a subject for the panellists to cover in a 50 min discussion? It’s certainly a big subject, but the panel managed to cover a lot of the issues surrounding this burning topic. Here are a few takeaways:

  • Palm Oil can have a sustainable future, in fact 100% of palm oil used by Nestlé UK is from segregated and certified sustainable sources, but that solves only a small part of the problem.
  • Palm Oil is a wonder crop. Its high yield and versatility mean it’s used in such a large variety of products, from keeping chocolate smooth, or margarine solid, or adding a creamy mouth feel to ice cream, not only does it appear in numerous personal consumer products and food items, it’s also used as a biofuel and as a staple cooking oil across large swathes of Asia.
  • Alternatives such as soybean, rapeseed and coconut present big challenges around affordability, acceptability, and sustainability. Yields are much lower, meaning more farmland needs to be made available – which could also lead to deforestation. The alternatives aren’t necessarily better in terms of environmental and social impact.
  • Boycotts aren’t the answer. They risk decreasing the demand for sustainable palm oil, and damaging livelihoods almost entirely reliant on producing palm oil corns. Any slowdown in the process of making more farmers and mills practice sustainable methods will have a negative effect on preventing deforestation.
  • The supply chain is complicated – and complex – for example in Indonesia, 45% of palm oil comes from small holders, by the time the raw product enters the mills, it has passed through 4-5 different buyers along the supply chain. This makes the supply chain long and complex and very difficult to influence. Nestlé is working with partners like Airbus and Earthworth on satellite monitoring of forest cover in areas where we source palm oil. This real time monitoring will help us ensure that the palm oil we buy isn’t linked to deforestation – but needs to be complimented by real influence on the ground.

The emanating theme from the whole discussion was the idea of collaboration. Industry, government and civil society groups must work much closer in the future to develop strong partnerships on the ground to improve the responsible production of palm oil. This is particularly important where areas of forest are under threat due to the demand for palm oil and other crops.

This is just a peek into the complex and fast moving world of responsible sourcing, to learn more about Nestlé’s role in responsible souring of palm oil, read Anna’s recent blog or listen to her recent appearance on the Innovation Forum Podcast.