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Fighting food waste, an interview with Danone

From more frequent and extreme storms and unprecedented heatwaves to global protests for equal rights and personal freedom, we’re feeling the impact of human-caused pressure on planet and people. Sustainability is a key concern amongst consumers, and this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. To understand what this means for businesses, we connect with sustainability and marketing professionals around the world in a series of ‘Conscious Consumption’ interviews.

In this interview, Joeri Van den Bergh connects with Tine Ryssaert, then Sustainability for Growth Director EDP Belgium at Danone, to hear how Danone is acting upon its mission ‘One Planet. One Health’.

FIGHTING FOOD WASTE BY EDUCATING CONSUMERS

Q: Can you give an example of a sustainability project within Danone that you are particularly proud of?

“As we’re a big player in food, food waste is part of our sustainability strategy. Back in February 2021, we were approached by Too Good To Go, an app that connects customers to restaurants and stores that have leftovers. They wanted to be part of a movement to fight food waste, the Waste Warriors (WAW). This was fully in line with our aspirations, as we are on a journey to change labeling where possible, from UBD (use-by date) to BBD (best-before date), educating people on the topic.

In September 2021, Too Good to Go has taken their initiative and potential impact one step further. 10% of waste is interrelated with the fact that people don’t trust the product anymore when the date says it is expired. For some products that might be valid, but for many, such as dairy products, it’s not always the case. You can look, smell and taste to decide if it’s still OK to consume them. Too Good To Go, brand of the WAW community and beyond, are putting this philosophy into the market by launching the ‘look smell taste – don’t waste’ label, reminding and helping people to decide on conscious consumption.

I really like this initiative since Too Good To Go acts as a facilitator, connecting large brands, which makes the impact in the market way bigger. The ‘Look, Smell, Taste, Don’t Waste’ campaign was very well received by consumers – probably because there is an immediate (financial) benefit in it for them as they don’t have to throw away food that is perfectly fine for consumption.”

ACTING UPON LOCALNESS AND MENTAL HEALTH DURING THE PANDEMIC

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Danone’s thinking and actions on sustainability?

“During the pandemic period, localness became very important. Danone, our yoghurt brand, is the company’s flagship, and we’re very proud that it’s mainly produced in Belgium, which is indicated with a Belgian flag on the packaging. But we went one step further, by including a reference to Hoogstraten strawberries – local Belgian strawberries. We partnered up with the brand and process their surplus fruit, so leftover strawberries that could not be used anymore for other means. For us, this initiative was about partnering up to act on localness and also visualize this on-pack to make the story land with consumers. For example, Danone works with more than 90 local farmers and we show those families on the packaging, bringing their story to life to make it human, local, and recognizable.

We also experienced the importance of both mental and physical health during the pandemic, and we believe our brands can play a role there. For example, the Danio brand – for which Millennials is a key tribe – is all about ‘letting loose, let go’. The bar is high, also for students, and in the future, we are considering initiatives to support this segment with their mental well-being. But also for Activia, which is then more about the connection between gut and mental health, we feel this is a topic we potentially should discuss more. In areas where we have credibility or relevance to play with our brands, we should be open, start discussions, and support consumers where we can.”

 

THE B-CORP LABEL: A CATALYST FOR SUSTAINABLE GROWTH

Q: Danone has been certified by B Corp, a movement of companies that have been verified to meet the highest standards of social and environmental criteria. What does this label mean for Danone?

“For us, being a Certified B Corporation serves as a catalyzer for sustainable growth. To obtain a B-Corp certification, you must complete a B Impact Assessment (BIA) and earn an audited minimum score of 80 out of 200 possible points, and recertify every three years. So, you must prove progress on all the topics and questions included in the BIA, such as renewable energy, recyclability, etc. (in the (5) area(s) of governance, community, customers, environment, and workers). And this is where it really helps as a catalyst for growth. During meetings where we discuss innovation, for instance, we always have a one-pager in the standard deck to discuss how an innovation will impact B Corp. Just by doing that, we reflect on how we can ensure that our innovations contribute to the bigger picture such as the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

However, the awareness among consumers is very low; but I’m convinced this will change when the B-Corp community grows. Overall, there are so many labels and people don’t understand them. It seems like putting multiple labels on packaging is the new greenwashing. Some large organizations merely aim to reach the requirements for obtaining a specific label so that they can tick the box, but they are not intrinsically driven by sustainability. It’s not in their DNA, like it is for Danone. From a consumer point of view, it would make sense to have a label that is credible and transparent, and has the same certification process for every company. Whether that should be B Corp, that’s up for debate.”

 

In summary, Danone is actively fighting food waste, and partnerships with organizations such as Too Good To Go help the company to have a significant impact on the market. COVID-19 has increased the importance of localness and mental well-being (amongst other things), and Tine strongly believes the Danone brands have a role to play in these domains. And finally, being part of the B-Corp community acts as a catalyst for sustainable growth for the company.

 

Hungry for more? Stay tuned as we will release more ‘Conscious Consumption’ interviews in the coming weeks!

Conscious Consumption

Conscious Consumption

Sustainability is a key concern amongst consumers, and this has only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. This bookzine highlights some of the key barriers amongst consumers as well as their expectations towards brands, through proprietary research, expert interviews with sustainability executives from several industries, and brand illustrations.

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