The Martin Bauer Group is a leading supplier of teas, extracts and botanicals, supplying most global players in the tea and beverage industries as well as many local companies. The company started sourcing UTZ certified tea in 2011, and introduced their own sustainable sourcing standard for herbal teas, mabagrown®, in the same year. Managing Director Sebastian Sieben explains why sustainability matters – and why they chose to work with UTZ.
“Management started thinking about a holistic sustainability approach in around 2008, pushed by a desire to gain more transparency about our supply chains, and to be able to assess and influence the impact of our buying choices on both people and nature,” says Sebastian. “Sustainable sourcing is one of the major cornerstones of our strategy. But a lot of our components are ‘minor’ crops in comparison to the big commodities, and they are complicated to grow or to collect.”
This meant that, while Martin Bauer could choose to source UTZ certified tea as a matter of course, it was more complicated in terms of herbal teas. There was no industry standard at the time, and so the company decided to take the plunge to develop their own. After two years of work, the first version of their mabagrown® standard was introduced in 2011. It was a great success, but it had not been an easy process.
“The immediate impact we saw was a huge load of work, cost and complexity. It takes years to develop such a program, build up internal structures, convince your partners and roll out from one farmer to the next until you reach significant volumes,” admits Sebastian.
But now we are able to see an impact in the market, and more importantly on people, product and the environment. To see improvements ‘live’ and on site is the best motivation for our employees and our customers.
Joining forces with UTZ
The business had developed a strong standard of their own, but they also recognized it is hard to sell to the market based on a company-own standard. By joining forces with an existing label, and one that sets high external standards, Martin Bauer aimed to gain increased recognition for their sustainable approach in the herbal tea marketplace.
“It was always our intention to create more than just an ‘internal’ standard, we wanted to install a system that fulfils the criteria of independent standard organizations and that is externally validated,” says Sebastian.
They chose to partner with UTZ and Union for Ethical Biotrade, (UEBT) as they liked the pragmatic approach, flexibility and geographical reach of these organizations. The resulting process saw Martin Bauer integrate the UTZ/UEBT herbal tea requirements into their mabagrown® program, while helping form UTZ’s certification scheme for herbal tea.
“We were excited about the opportunity to have UTZ and later UEBT contribute to our work and vice versa, to be able to support the creation of the UTZ standard for herbal infusions and to become a UEBT member,” says Sebastian.
Strong industry interest
The implementation of mabagrown® is now helping to establish stable and long lasting partnerships with key suppliers, as well as with customers. Sebastian Sieben has no doubt that it is moving the whole business from a transactional and short-term perspective to long lasting partnerships based on trust.
“We can feel a strong and serious interest in the industry on this issue beyond our ‘start up’ customers,” he says. “This both motivates and enables us to grow our share of sustainably sourced components continuously. Indeed, we hope to be able to source the majority of our items sustainably within the next 10 years.”