Award shines light on cutting-edge shea innovation

Oils and fats pioneer Bunge Loders Croklaan was recognised at last’s FiE Innovation Awards for Karibon its shea-based premium cocoa butter equivalent (CBE). We spoke with global communication and marketing manager Monique Hartog about prioritising supply chain sustainability and empowering local communities, as well as the benefits of having one’s profile raised at a leading industry event.

Innovation is about more than just technical breakthroughs and discoveries; it is also about putting in place new practices and processes that can transform lives. This was a key reason behind the success of Bunge Loders Croklaan at least year’s FiE Europe event.

Their product, Karibon, won the Clean Label & Natural Innovation Award. Karibon is the first 100 % shea-based premium cocoa butter equivalent (CBE), and is designed to deliver improved performance and nutritional value compared to cocoa butter and traditional CBEs. The company not only developed an innovative means of converting molecules into a CBE-type fat, but also invests in an equitable supply chain that supports farmers at source. 

Sustainable supply chains

“I’m proud we won this Award,” says Hartog. “And I think one of the reasons we were successful is our strong shea sustainability program we have in place at the origin.”

Hartog explains that the Where Live Grows-programme consists of 3 elements.

1.   “We are active in supporting and empowering the women who collect the shea nuts to become more independent, delivering long term security and providing a viable and sustainable market for their crop,” she says.

2.   The second element focuses on conserving and protecting the shea landscape. Hartog points out that it can take 25 years for a shea tree to grow and bear fruit, which can disincentivise farmers who of course need to feed their family. By training and supporting communities in how to conserve and regenerate the shea landscape while also investing in planting shea trees and fruit trees, the company is enabling communities to sustainably plan for the future.

3.   “Thirdly, we create socio economic value at the origin by crushing the shea nuts at our local partners and processing the shea butter in our factory in Ghana, instead of exporting them to Europe to process them further. This approach provides direct and indirect employment for hundreds of people.” 

Raising awareness

For Bunge Loders Croklaan, the Award is a reflection of this commitment to technological innovation and supply chain sustainability. It has also helped the company to stand out from the crowd. “Last year, winning the Award meant that we received automatic attention via Fi Europe’s communication around Innovation,” explains Hartog. “Many people at the event browse that area, and people are more likely to come to your stand if you have something visual that emphasises that you are a winner.” Hartog adds that even little things like winner lapel badges help to spark a conversation or just add that little something that sets you apart from the crowd.

In the meantime, Bunge Loders Croklaan continues to focus on evolving market needs. Hartog notes for example the continued growth in demand for plant-based solutions.

“Consumers are looking for healthy options and reduced meat products,” she says. “This is where we can play a role, through developing plant-based fats capable of replacing animal-based fats.” Indeed, the company has tested that in addition to providing chocolate-based solutions, their shea based Karibon product can also be used as a functional substitute for meat-based fats.

The Fi Europe Innovation Awards celebrate people, companies and organisations breaking new ground, and has become one of the most prestigious awards in the industry. The deadline for this year’s applications is 7 October. The winners will be announced during Fi & Hi Europe, which takes place from 28 November to8 December 2022. Find out more here