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As one of the pioneering companies in sustainability, the team at Ahold Delhaize Coffee Company have a unique insight into what works and what doesn’t. Sourcing Manager Martijn Duin and Finance Manager Rob Klootwijk discuss the process Ahold Delhaize went through, and offer advice to others thinking of sourcing sustainably.
“If you are looking to do something different, such as moving towards sustainability, dare to do it! Dare to go into a dialogue with your shareholders or your boss, because if you never try something, it will never happen,” advises Martijn.
“What is very important – and Ahold Delhaize Coffee Company did it this way – is to always attach your sustainability goals to your business model. Especially when you start out, it costs money; that’s a fact,” he explains. “So it’s vitally important that your business model takes into account the qualitative measures and opportunities that arise from a new direction over the long term.”
“When we started working towards sustainability almost 20 years ago, the idea of certification labels on packaging was quite new, and for the most part consumers didn’t really care,” adds Rob. “Nowadays, we see many more people willing to pay more money for a higher quality product. For some, that’s about paying more for sustainability, while for others higher quality simply means better flavor.”
Advantages of sustainability
Martijn continues, “At first we faced resistance from retailers because prices had to be higher for sustainable products, and they weren’t happy about it. But we kept at it, and our commitment made us a frontrunner in the Dutch market. We helped change the marketplace as a whole; in the Netherlands today it’s common practice to have certified coffee. This really gave us an advantage because we were the ones creating the level playing field.”
“It also brought new sales opportunities, as new clients came to us specifically because we could deliver sustainable coffee.”
Our commitment made us a frontrunner in the Dutch market. It gave us an advantage because we created the level playing field.
“It has made us more upfront, more proactive and nimble,” adds Rob. “If we hadn’t made the move to sustainability, we would have to be much more reactive – there would be a lot more pressure from the market, a lot of questions about what we are going to do to improve our coffee. Being sustainable allows us to answer these questions before they are asked.”
“By working with UTZ we are always able to show where our coffee comes from. And customers value this – they want to know this story. If consumers buy our UTZ certified coffee there is a QR code on the packet – they can use their phone, scan the code and immediately see where the coffee comes from. People like that.”
In looking to future Martijn says, “Sourcing sustainable coffee was our first, important step, but our next ambition is to become climate neutral. We are also looking for other possibilities within coffee alongside other companies such as UTZ – moving beyond certification. We don’t have the answer on how best to do this yet, but we are looking to see what the next steps could be.”
As a final word, Rob concludes: “Stay close to real business. There are a lot of problems in many origin countries, and nearly all our suppliers have great charitable projects they want us to invest in. This has merit, but what is even more important is bringing business to origin countries, not just charity. If you attach your investment to your business model, you are also working on optimizing the value chain that you are dependent on. With that, a lot of change can happen.”
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