Fyffes targets differentiation through sustainability

Gill McShane
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During the summer Fyffes published its first-ever sustainability report in which the global tropical fruit giant set out 13 ambitious targets in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) . At a time when real action on sustainability is a priority for produce operators the globe, PBUK takes a deeper look at what Fyffes is doing, how buyers stand to benefit and what others can learn.

Why now?

Agriculture, whether at home or abroad, is going to be severely impacted by climate change, Caoimhe Buckley, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Fyffes, begins by telling PBUK. “Globally, we are already seeing increased numbers of tropical storms, droughts and soil erosion caused by changing weather patterns as a result of the global warming that has already taken place,” she explains.

“We have a self-interested need to take action, as well as a drive to do the right thing. We’re all going to have to pull together to stop the damage to the environment, and the incredibly high temperatures that the world is facing.”

The time to act and to respond in a meaningful manner has never been more critical, stresses Buckley, who was hired by Fyffes two-and-a-half years ago for exactly that purpose. “I am a huge believer in ensuring targets are meaningful, data driven and publicly available,” she points out. “Our sector should be held to account for our practices, and we should also be rewarded for investing in the changes needed to become more sustainable. We are then rewarded when customers choose Fyffes over another brand. We hope buyers and consumers will choose our products because we have the highest level of care for our people and the planet.”


To that end, three years ago Fyffes began to build a team to look at sustainability in a rigorous manner. The creation of a Global Sustainability Steering Committee followed, with the group meeting every few months to discuss the right way forward based on real data.

Then last year Fyffes appointed a new chief executive, Helge Sparsoe, who galvanised the entire company and leadership team, and developed a new corporate strategy. Crucially, that strategy links to and supports the Fyffes Sustainability Strategy.

Targets

What emerged was an agreement on 13 “stretching but achievable” targets across four focus areas :

  • Stewardship for the Planet;
  • Healthy Food for Healthy Lives;
  • Enriching People’s Lives; and
  • Responsible Business Principles.

The targets are aligned to eight of the UN’s 17 SDGs, which are a call for action among all countries – developed and developing – to enter into in a global partnership for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. “The UN’s goals are what the world perceives to be the high standards,” Buckley notes. “If everyone, including government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses, is working towards those goals it will have a bigger effect.”

The eight SDGs with which Fyffes is aligned are:

  • Zero Hunger;
  • Quality Education;
  • Gender Equality;
  • Clean Water and Sanitation;
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth;
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure;
  • Responsible Consumption and Production; and
  • Climate Action

Fyffes’s most challenging goal is to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The intention is to set Fyffes apart in the tropical fresh produce sector by committing to an ambitious target of 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2025. This is in line with the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) scenario set by the Paris Climate Agreement .

This target aims to reduce the company’s GHG emissions (the CO2 equivalent per kilogramme of fruit harvested) by 25 per cent for scope 1 and scope 2; and by 10 per cent for scope 3.

By comparison, Buckley says many of the company’s competitors have opted largely for “well below 2 degrees”. Buyers, and consumers, can compare any company like for like on the SBTi website .

To reduce its GHG emissions, Fyffes is looking at everything from its use of pesticides, and renewables, water and energy consumption, insulation, and packaging (recyclable, reusable or compostable), to its logistics and the volume of fruit transported in a container.

It’s a challenging target that will require the whole company to contribute to the overall target. Over time, however, it will reduce costs.

Collaboration

In addition to company-wide involvement, Fyffes is working with partner organisations, including stakeholders, suppliers, not-for-profit associations, NGOs and customers. This matches another UN SDG: ‘Partnership for the Goals’.

“Stakeholder engagement is a big part of any approach to sustainability,” insists Buckley. “We want feedback from stakeholders, and we want to listen and take action.”

Already, Fyffes is working with not-for-profit Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) on its gender equality programme in Latin America. Discount retailer Lidl UK is supporting by funding training on the farms that supply their stores. Shortly, Fyffes will start a partnership with the UK-based NGO Banana Link on a similar programme in the Dominican Republic.

Fyffes also forms part of the World Banana Forum ’s Living Wage steering group, as well as other initiatives where the group is working together to address its targets.

“It gives you more credibility when you work with a partner,” emphasises Buckley. “It allows you to join forces and reach more people, so your programmes can go further.”

Progress

Although its sustainability report was published in July 2021, Fyffes had started delivering on many of its targets in January, according to Buckley, who describes this as a “good start”.

“The response from people across the company to meet our targets has been phenomenal,” she reveals. “There was already a big culture of sustainability at Fyffes before we had a formal process in place. The difference now is that we have a much more rigorous programme.”

Indeed, Fyffes has invested in sustainability improvements for many years. The firm says that 97.6 per cent of its supply is covered by a voluntary sustainability certification or standard. In 1998, meanwhile, Fyffes brought the first organic bananas to the UK, and it is the world’s largest supplier of Fairtrade bananas, thanks to a 20-year partnership with Fairtrade.

Just this month, a Fyffes banana farm in Costa Rica became the first in the world to receive the new Rainforest Alliance certification, version 2020. The new standard covers a radically new management system approach to environmental, labour, social and economic risks.

Under the Sustainability Strategy, there have been a number of further achievements too:

• For GHG emissions, Fyffes is taking best practice from some of its operations and applying them more universally. For example, its banana farm Guaria in Costa Rica completed an energy-efficiency upgrade at its packhouse to allow for better electricity use and control. This has provided a more comfortable workplace and reduced overall energy consumption. Water recycling practices and solar panel usage has been extended across more farms too. The goal for 2025 is for 100 per cent of Fyffes’s own operations to have water management plans in place.

• In the UK, new ultra-energy efficient ripening rooms were completed in 2019 at the firm’s Basingstoke ripening centre. The new rooms replace the previous 20-year-old rooms, and provide better ripening controls. The three-year long project resulted in the most significant contributor to CO2 reductions in the UK. That methodology is being applied now to the construction of a new Fyffes ripening centre in Ireland.

• Also in 2019, Fyffes launched a gender equality programme at its Costa Rican pineapple farm and one of its Honduran melon farms. All 100 per cent of Fyffes-owned Latin American operations will benefit from these programmes by 2025, and 50 per cent of its suppliers by 2030.

• A couple of years ago the firm introduced a compostable, recyclable paper band for bananas. By 2025 Fyffes aims for all its packaging to be compostable, recyclable, or reusable. Fyffes also uses reusable CHEP pallets to transport its fruit boxes, which saved 3.8 million kilogrammes of landfill waste in 2020.

• To date in 2021, Fyffes has donated 1 million meals to vulnerable people in the UK, through its partnership with FareShare . This contributes towards its target to donate 5 million meals.

Buyer benefits

The retailers who buy fresh fruit from Fyffes are involved in these sustainability objectives too. Fyffes regularly speaks with its buyers to understand their own targets and the opportunities for collaboration.

Those discussions influence the priority areas for Fyffes. Most of the time, the goals are aligned; whether the focus is on gender, climate change, reducing packaging or greenhouse gases. Furthermore, in publishing a sustainability report, retailers can quickly and easily see both Fyffes’s commitments and achievements. Buyers can compare Fyffes’ targets with their own, as well as competing suppliers.

“In many ways we are ahead of our peers, and we are now implementing mitigation actions and addressing any gaps,” Buckley claims. For example, in 2019 Fyffes carried out its human rights due diligence, and made that information available on its website. This is well ahead of the European Union (EU) deadline that requires all companies who do business in the EU to have conducted human rights due diligence by 2023.

Approach

With so many routes for a produce company to take to become more sustainable, it can be hard to know where to start. For Fyffes, the key was to form a Materiality Matrix to illustrate the greatest dangers for the company in the future.

A Materiality Matrix maps the major risks (such as climate change, food safety or talent recruitment) facing a company on an x and a y axis. The importance to stakeholders is plotted on one axis, with the relevance to the company on the other axis.

Fyffes chose the eight UN SDGs by using the results of the Materiality Matrix, in conjunction with internal and external stakeholder interviews conducted in 2018, as well as an independent human rights impact assessment that Fyffes undertook in late 2019. This year, the focus areas were reviewed according to Fyffes’ new corporate strategy.

“Combined, these reinforced and refined the UN SDGs that we had selected,” Buckley comments. “It was important that we chose only to focus on a few of the UN SDGs because I think it’s a mistake to try to cover them all. For example, life below the sea isn’t as relevant to Fyffes as climate action is.”

The process was time consuming but important. In the end, the company’s 13 overall sustainability targets were tested with the farms, operations, distribution, commercial, marketing and human resources personnel at Fyffes.

“We took three years to come up with these targets and to refine our strategy,” Buckley says. “All our targets were chosen using a rigorous methodology. They were chosen because they are where we, as a company, will have the greatest impact on our people and our planet.”

For example, Fyffes undertook a life-cycle assessment on its core products to understand where the company incurs the greatest GHG emissions and water use. The targets relating to its people and communities are linked to the human rights impact assessment.

Meanwhile, the targets relating to food loss, donating food to vulnerable groups, and promoting healthy eating habits were a “no-brainer”, according to Buckley, because Fyffes is “lucky to supply products that are inherently healthy and nutritious”.

Advice

For other produce companies seeking to set sustainability goals, Buckley has some sound advice. Two of the most important learnings from her experience is to ensure full support from employees across the company, and full support from the company’s leadership and board.

“Fyffes formed a Global Sustainability Steering Committee made up of farm managers, materials experts, human resources, commercial directors, logistics directors, marketing, as well as compliance and sustainability,” she explains. “Our project management approach will ensure that everyone is aligned behind achieving our targets.”

As part of its project management process, managers across Fyffes have been assigned deliverables. In addition, each of the targets is sponsored by one of the executive leadership team at the company, who have accountabilities in hitting the targets too. The targets are broken down into sub goals and incremental objectives towards achieving the overall target. Buckley herself has a few targets.

Importantly, the board of directors at Fyffes have endorsed all of the 13 targets, and the sustainability team updates directors on the progress at each board meeting. “The key is to be united and to pull together so everyone across the business is playing their part,” Buckley states.

Other recommendations include:

  • Aligning targets to your company’s corporate strategy and values;
  • Aligning targets to the UN SDGs;
  • Conducting due diligence and basing targets on good data;
  • Inviting the opinion of employees and external stakeholders;
  • Steering clear of exaggerated or unsubstantiated marketing claims; and
  • Making targets available for everyone to see, as well as providing progress updates for transparency.

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