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Superunie calls Sustainable Juice Covenant a logical next step

The buying cooperative that represents 13 independent retail organizations in the Netherlands joined the global initiative to make the sourcing of fruit juices sustainable. Cindy Verhoeven manager sustainable sourcing at Superunie explains why they signed the Sustainable Juice Covenant.

“It was a logical next step for us. Superunie joined the Sustainable Initiative Fruits and Vegetables (SIFAV) several years ago, so we knew the Sustainable Juice Covenant (SJC) was created. It fits the policies we already have, and our aim to create more transparent and sustainable supply chains. Especially for products from high risk countries we need to manage social compliance and environmental issues. To do so, we have a set of requirements for our suppliers in place. These standards are already in line with SIFAV and now the SJC. In that sense it was a logical choice to sign this covenant. We want to demonstrate that we are serious about our ambitions and really commit to them. Furthermore, we want to give a clear signal to the entire industry, our suppliers, other retailers, and consumers.”

Why is sustainability important to Superunie?

“We serve a large part of the market, as a sourcing- and buying cooperative, we buy a large range in considerable volumes. Because of the size of our volume we can make a difference. We strongly believe that sustainability and insight in the supply chain are necessary to ensure that we can continue to purchase high quality and affordable products for our members. In order to safeguard biodiversity, protect soil and water quality and quantity and to safeguard sufficient supply of goods and raw materials, farmers need to make a living wage to start with. For the sustainable continuation of our members this is the way forward. Also, it is simply an ethical responsibility we have. Consumers expect to buy fair and healthy products, it is very important for them to know what they buy. To build trust it is important to offer transparency. Quality is first for Superunie, sustainability is definitely a part of this quality.”

Why the Sustainable Juice Covenant approach?

“The SJC criteria are already part of our current purchase requirements, and we want to give these criteria more visibility. This covenant helps to point these out to suppliers. Sustainability labels help as well, but they are more about either you fit the criteria or you don’t’, which doesn’t always allow for complex challenges to be addressed. You need more. A big benefit of the Sustainable Juice Covenant approach is that it allows to share information, gain more insight in the whole sector, and build partnerships. It helps to jointly recognize and agree on problems. When the whole supply chain joins forces, and becomes part of such a covenant, from producer to retailer, you create common agreement on what you want to achieve. I really believe in cooperating to get the job done.

“Our buyers will fully support this initiative and will encourage all relevant suppliers to enter in this covenant, the sooner the better in order not to lose the business opportunities. That is why it is so important that more parties sign the covenant. We need to level the playing field and make sure this is the norm.”

Next steps in the collaboration?

“It is now up to us to assess where we are. What information do we, at this moment, have available from our supply chain, where are the risks, and which measures are we already taking? The upcoming goal for 2020 is to reach 30% sustainability. On which parties and which products are we going to focus?”

“This step to step approach has as the advantage that it allows us to get suppliers on board. It is important to take them along in the journey to reach our ultimate goal of 100% sustainability in 2030. By making it common knowledge that we want to move in this direction, we give them the chance to take the measures that are needed to get there and to stay a qualified supplier for Superunie. It is important for suppliers to take this into their planning, budget, sourcing and investment strategy.”

“Another next step for Superunie is to involve our direct suppliers. We work together with 5 big suppliers, one of them, Refresco, has already signed.”

Why should others also join the SJC?

“Quite simply: you cannot do it yourself. From a retail perspective, at the end our ambitions are not that different of other retailers. All of them eventually will have to do this, some just move faster than others. Like in other sustainability subjects Superunie wants to be effective and pro-active. If you look at government, they ask retailers to implement IMVO-risk management based on OESO guidelines and UN Guiding Principles. IMVO risk management means bringing transparency in to the supply chain, to know where the issues are and to tackle these when you have enough influence. And you can be more influential, when you have scale. So, in the end to have impact, we need to do it together in order to create that scale.”

“There are those that say a covenant is just a signature on a piece of paper. At Superunie we disagree; we consider sustainability as a key ingredient looking at the total Product Integrity. It is important to be critical of these things, it really adds something. For us it helps to share knowledge and bring different parties together. Also, what you sometimes hear is that it is yet another reporting process, which takes time and money. For us a covenant is a big stick, because you need these insights in your supply chain anyway. Besides, the covenant provides guidelines on reporting: how to do it, what the scope it, what is important and what is not. This saves time rather than to have to figure out everything yourself. Lastly, when multiple actors report the same way on similar issues it allows to compare across the industry, also making the issues and measures clearer for consumers.”

“To put it bluntly, you can spend a very long time talking about these things, or you can just start and do it. That is the only way to make this happen.”

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