Growing consumer loyalty with sustainable sourcing

Sustainable sourcing has become an essential part of future success in the food industry. In the case of high demand products such as vanillin, sustainable sourcing is key in preventing product recall and brand damage. Ahead of his presentation at the Fi Conference 2017 we interviewed Matthieu Helft, Sustainability & Innovation VP at Solvay, to gain better insight into sustainable sourcing in the food industry.

Matthieu Helft


What does sustainability mean to Solvay?
‘As a member of the DJSI (Dow Jones Sustainability Index), sustainability is act ually designing our strategy and it is deployed through the way we do business. Our Solvay Way program is one of the main pillars of our Group culture and expresses our commitment towards our different stakeholders i.e., customers, suppliers, employees, communities, investors and the planet.’
‘As consumers, we really believe that sustainability helps to innovate and make our business more responsible with higher value and less environmental impact as a result. It is also a way to do business and meet society evolving demography and behaviors.’

How do you think the industry as a whole is tackling the issue of sustainability? Is there more that can be done
‘The food industry has been taking the topic of sustainability more and more into account, from big and international players to midsize and small companies. The trend has become a pre-requisite all along the food value chain because consumers around the world are asking for sustainable solutions.’
‘My team and I ran an in-depth survey of the food chain early this year, starting with consumers. One of their key buying criteria, together with safety and traceability, is sustainability. It is very interesting to see that this topic is now in the top 3 reasons when consumers decide to buy a product. The industry will continue to tackle this topic as a key strategic milestone and recognise sustainability as a fundamental investment for the future. For the F&B industry, sustainability is not only about supplying the right ingredient, it is also about gaining competitiveness.’

Can you briefly describe your work around the sustainable sourcing of vanillin? What has driven Solvay’s desire for sustainable sourcing?
‘While sustainable sourcing is key for the industry in general, it is far more crucial when talking about vanillin, natural vanillin and vanilla bean. Vanillin is the signature molecule of the vanilla taste, naturally present in vanilla pod (around 1-2% of the dry matter). Sourcing has been strongly at risk for years while consumers are willing to pay more for such natural ingredients (vanillin is the TOP 1 flavor worldwide). Soaring prices due to the enduring shortage in the vanilla market offer producers little scope, and the use of low-cost vanillin from non-sustainable sources carries a high risk of expensive product recalls and brand damage.’
‘As a responsible and leading vanillin producer, ensuring sustainable sourcing for our portfolio is essential. It is about behaving ethically along the whole supply chain, ensuring reliability of local supply together with responsible man agement of the environmental impact. Solvay is for instance a member of the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX) organization for corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the food industry. We are committed to the four pillars of SEDEX Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) and best practices methodology in our three production sites in France, China and the United States, enabling a secured supply chain for our customers.’
‘We secure also sourcing of natural raw material for our natural vanillin as the consumers’ request is skyrocketing. Our natural vanillin solution comes from a patented bioconversion process of ferulic acid from rice bran. Both raw material and strain are non-GMO which is one of the key criteria for the industry. The traceability of origin is also important for us.’

What are the commercial benefits of implementing a sustainable sourcing strategy?
‘As previously said, sustainability is part of Solvay’s DNA. Implementing a sustainable sourcing strategy is a way meeting consumer requirements and connecting to megatrends in society, as well as enabling us to support the food chain players in their challenges. Our approach to resources and portfolio management is key to differentiating our offering compared to the competition and secures our customers’ business.’

What are your predictions for sustainability within the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?
‘The food and beverage industry is going to continue to look for sustainable solutions that include reliable, sustainable supply, ethical behavior and environmentally–friendly nutritional products.’
‘As an ingredients and functional food solutions supplier, we can play a leading role in the future by sharing sustainable good practices and their positive impact in the food industry and by helping manufacturers properly communicate the message to the end-consumers to generate higher loyalty.’

Be sure to catch Matthieu Helft’s presentation ‘How can sustainable vanillin-based solutions serve consumers' expectations for natural and nutritional innovations?’ at the Fi Europe 2017 Conference during the Master Class: Sustainability on Thursday, 30th November 11:00–14:00.