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Jürg von Niederhäusern is currently the Head of Social Compliance for Migros, Switzerland’s largest retail organization, supermarket and employer. The entire basic coffee assortment (ca. 85 % of all coffee products) carry the UTZ label and their chocolate is almost exclusively UTZ. Chocolat Frey, their confectionary range, has been certified along with the muesli bars, ice cream and other products that contain chocolate. Sixty percent of Migros’ general assortment is made up of food and fresh products, the rest is non-food.
Mr. von Niederhäusern has been involved with UTZ since 2008 when they switched to a sustainable sourcing strategy for coffee. They have later also switched their cocoa and tea to UTZ and are working currently on hazelnuts. He is a member of the UTZ Standards Committee.
Migros considers itself to be a pioneer in sustainability. Its founder, Gottlieb Duttweiler’s ideology and promise to protect the environment and promote sustainable consumption feature prominently on the company website stating how he “fought for the future of Switzerland and urged his employees already in 1950 to get involved in the society and culture”.
In Mr. von Niederhäusern’s experience, consumers of today have a cyclical mindset regarding sustainability. They raise questions about the origins of chocolate before Easter every year just as they do with similar concerns about the workers, origins and social impact of the toys they purchase before Christmas.
“Sustainability is not a hot topic”
Migros has a formal sustainability strategy in place with a social, economic and ecological focus. Most strategic topics center around raw materials like cocoa.
At Migros, sustainability is not treated as a hot topic but is a general movement that has evolved since the 1970’s when the focus first started on fruits and vegetables. Since then, Migros has continuously improved its product standards. In 2008, Migros was the first retailer in Switzerland to switch its coffee assortment to UTZ.
After the switch of coffee, chocolate, tea and now with its commitment to sustainability in the hazelnut supply chain, it becomes an issue of where else can changes be made, what hot spots remain and which gaps should be filled. ‘Generation M’ is the name of Migros’ sustainability program and focuses on the upcoming generation of young consumers. Migros vows to continue its promises such as to protect the environment, promote sustainable consumption, behave responsibly towards employees and society and to promote a healthy lifestyle.
About the challenges of converting to UTZ, Mr. von Niederhäusern’s perspective is encouraging for anyone else interested in doing the same. He describes the commitment as “huge work but once it’s done, it’s done”.
Category Managers lead the way
For Migros, it has been the work of the Category Managers who have to support the activities and decisions in the sustainability process. They are responsible for buying and selling the products and are essentially the ones who integrate boardroom decisions into the buying structure. This is accomplished with measurable targets of, for example, how much sustainable coffee they have to have by 2020, etc.
Employee reaction? Mr. von Niederhäusern says that it’s been strong at 90% positive! This can be attributed to an extensive internal communication campaign to take employees along on the sustainability journey, including informative posters, a pocket guide and articles on the intranet.
Customer reaction? After a period of explaining what exactly it is that UTZ does, customers were satisfied with the solution to their coffee and chocolate and tea concerns.
With no drastic change in spending habits in response to climate change talks or other headlines, a continuous and steady sustainability strategy has worked well for Migros without sudden shifts in one direction or another as the news cycles change. As always, the talk remains about chocolates before Easter and toys before Christmas.
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