Suzanne Callander explores the importance of sustainability when it comes to choosing your confectionery ingredients today.

When asked a question about the use of sustainable ingredients in confectionery production, Syvlestre Awono, Cacao-Trace expert and senior global product and training manager, chocolate, at Puratos gave an unequivocal answer.In my view, it’s not a question of ‘can’ or ‘should,’ confectioners must aim to source more sustainably. It’s not just a recipe decision, it’s a business imperative too. While of course all companies need to generate profit, the ability to do that is intrinsically linked with the other two facets of sustainability – people and planet. If we don’t look after those, then there will be no profit to enjoy. To make money in the long term – and that’s the crucial point – sustainable sourcing will be pivotal.” 

Syvlestre goes on to explain that ethical sourcing is also key. “Consumer sentiment is weighing heavily on the side of sustainability, and more so every day. People are now aware of the challenges in supply chains, such as cocoa and coffee. We all have a moral obligation to improve those supply chains and the livelihoods of the people that enable them. I genuinely believe that a day will come when foods containing ingredients that are not sustainably sourced will simply fall out of favour as they will not be relevant to a well-informed, compassionate market.” 

Ultimately, however, Syvlestre points out that sustainability isn’t just about charity. It’s about doing business while respecting and protecting the planet and caring for the people that enable you to have a business today, tomorrow and in the future. 

So, how can confectionery producers guarantee the provenance of the ingredients they purchase? Syvlestre believes that traceability is the cornerstone of provenance – it is vital to have the ability to verify, through clear and comprehensive documentation, the history of an ingredient from its very beginning – in many cases, on farms. “This is what programs like Cacao-Trace, for the cocoa industry, offer,” says Syvlestre. “However, that traceability becomes valuable only when accompanied by transparency and value creation for all stakeholders and, as ingredients providers, we have to openly share those records with others in our supply chain, and those other parties need to have trust in them. 

“Traceability should not be the be-all and end-all. It is, and must remain, a tool for sustainability. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for farmers to see the value to them of traceability. In many cases, more is demanded of them, and they bear more costs without any clear financial reward. This all takes time, effort and consistency, of course, but it’s the only way to have confidence in the provenance that ingredients claim.” 

The most obvious advantage of using sustainable ingredients is the value, and therefore profit, that it can add to a product. Sustainable products are known to carry a premium in many categories. The Sustainable Market Share Index, published by the NYU Stern Centre for Sustainable Business (CSB), recently reported that cookies marketed as sustainable enjoy an average price premium of 116%. For chocolate, the figure was 40%. Sustainable options are also reported to be less price-sensitive, implying they are more likely to weather challenging times when consumers are spending less, when supply chains are disrupted or when inflation is rising. Importantly, the CSB also found that, on average, sustainably-marketed products grew nearly three times faster than conventionally-marketed ones. These findings show how important it is not only to manufacture sustainable products, but also to communicate that fact to consumers. 

“What producers might not think of so readily is the value that a sustainable approach brings to its own workforce. Employees enjoy working for businesses they believe are ethical, sustainable and caring. These characteristics foster progression, enthusiasm, loyalty and advocacy – positives that are difficult to put a price on, but without question are extremely valuable to any business,” concludes Syvlestre. 

Facing challenges  

On the subject of sustainable ingredients, Andrew Brooks, Head of Cocoa Sustainability at olam food ingredients (ofi), believes that food production faces some of the world’s biggest economic and environmental challenges, which need to be resolved in the next decade to keep feeding the world’s growing population responsibly. “Confectioners need to be mindful of the ingredients they use and their impact on the communities and landscapes they come from,” he says. “Sourcing sustainable ingredients isn’t just the right thing to do – consumers today increasingly want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. They want reassurance that when they buy a product, they are supporting a supply chain where farmers earn more, communities are supported, and the natural world is protected.” 

Andrew agrees with Syvlestre that transparency and traceability are critical, but he points out that this can be challenging when crops like cocoa are grown by smallholder farmers living in remote locations with unreliable communication and internet access, and products change hands several times before they reach production lines. “To overcome these challenges and deliver a more reliable, traceable, and transparent supply for customers, it is important that we are close to farmers and have an effective team on the ground in cocoa sourcing origins,” he explains. “We must also constantly improve data and insight to offer transparency across the supply chain and set clear targets and metrics that we track and report progress against. 

“As of 2020, we are proud to have achieved 100% traceability of our direct cocoa supply chain. This is cocoa procured directly from farmers, or from a farming co-operative, farmer group, community or growing area. We developed an end-to-end traceability system that tracks the cocoa at every stage in the direct supply chain across nine countries – either to the farm or to the community. By collecting data such as farm and community metrics, cocoa bean purchasing and transportation information, and details on the facility where the cocoa was processed, we can provide unprecedented transparency for customers. This also allows sustainability programs targeted at tackling child labour and deforestation to be tailored to the specific needs of farmers and cocoa-growing communities.” 

This data is available to confectionery producers through ofi’s sustainability insights platform, AtSource, which tracks 100+ economic, social and environmental metrics across its supply chains, from farm to factory gate.  

Andrew cites single-origin chocolate as offering a good example to demonstrate the benefits to the confectioner of using sustainable ingredients. Chocolate made from one variety of cocoa beans, grown and sourced from a particular region, has enjoyed a significant boost in popularity in recent years. Not only can single-origin ingredients offer greater transparency and traceability – often right down to the estate or co-operative that farmed the cocoa – they also open up new and unique flavour possibilities and give products a premium taste. 

Focusing on health 

Health of the planet became the top focus in 2021 for the majority of western European countries, according to a 2021 Innova Consumer Survey. On average, 73% of European consumers say they have taken action to help the environment, social and community causes, while 54% now prefer to buy from companies reflecting these values, according to HealthFocus International in 2020.  

The pandemic has driven consumers to recognise the vulnerability of their own health as well as the health of the environment. Currently there appears to be a consumer mindset that ‘what’s good for the environment is also good for me’.  

With consumers holding themselves more accountable for sustainability than they have done in the past, many are making changes to their diet, such as avoiding food waste or seeking traceability information on package, food or production process. They also look out more for local foods and drinks and, according to FMC Gurus, they are willing to pay more for products with zero carbon footprint. 

Stepping up 

According to James Ede, Global Sustainability lead, Cargill Sweeteners, Starches Texturisers (CSST), while consumers have started taking accountability, they still expect companies to step up their sustainability efforts too. This means that confectionery manufacturers are going to need to be more transparent about their sustainability story – regarding both their goals and what they have already accomplished. It is important that organisations stay true to their promises as 66% of global consumers say that companies care about the environment but that their actions fall short of their word, according to a 2021 Dynata consumer survey. 

“For the majority of the sweeteners and texturising solutions used in confectionery applications, Cargill in Europe is now sourcing verified wheat and corn as raw materials to create value-adding ingredients like starches, polyols, and glucose syrups,” says James. This is benchmarked at silver level according to the SAI Platform’s Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) – an industry-recognised benchmarking system that supports good agricultural practices in various essential sustainability areas such as soil conservation, biodiversity conservation and water quality. To reach the SAI Silver benchmark, farmers are independently audited based on standards that go beyond European regulations and allow for credible sustainability claims. 

Cargill has also been sourcing sustainable stevia through the implementation of the Stevia Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which was initiated in 2010. “All partners must adhere to this standard which covers no less than 137 control criteria in 13 categories, with special focus on major criteria such as worker health and safety. A third-party auditor ensures compliance, and there is comprehensive oversight at manufacturing locations from Sedex. Benchmarking globally versus SAI FSA 3.0 is ongoing, and results are expected soon,” adds James. 

Valérie Le Bihan, Head of Global Marketing, Food Specialties at Roquette pointed out that recent data from NielsenIQ showed that 72% of people are willing to pay more for products that claim to be sustainable. “Given this change in consumer values, it is critical that confectionery producers focus on running sustainable businesses, including the sustainable sourcing of ingredients,” she says. 

As all of the contributors to this article point out, sourcing sustainable ingredients is becoming more of an ‘imperative’ than a ‘nice to have’. Sustainability should run through every area of the business – from the operational departments, where energy consumption and waste are becoming key considerations – right through to sourcing sustainable ingredients. As our authors have highlighted, in addition to being the right thing to do, it can also pay huge dividends as a confectionery product with sustainable credentials is considered a premium product by consumers today – for which they are willing to pay more. They are also more likely to weather the storms created by inflation and supply-chain disruptions that swirl around us today. 

Gelatin: a sustainable ingredient 

Gelatin has been used as multi-purpose ingredient for almost 8,000 years. It is a natural protein derived from animal bones and skin and is used in the confectionery sector in a wide range of candies, including gummies, marshmallows, jellies and specialty products like Turkish Delight. 

“Besides the versatility that gelatin brings to candy formulations, its status as a natural, eco-friendly ingredient means it is also suitable for confectionery brands hoping to address consumer demand for sustainable sweet treats,” argues Caroline Brochard-Garnier, Communication Director at Rousselot. 

The global food industry is at an interesting crossroads. On the one hand, shoppers are becoming more aware of how their consumption habits affect the environment and are looking to make more sustainable choices – an example of this is the trend for cutting or reducing meat consumption (a sector which has been shown to cause high greenhouse gas emissions). At the same time however, total meat consumption worldwide is expected to rise by 14% by 2030, particularly in developing countries, as the sector prepares to cater to the needs of the two billion people predicted to join the global population in the next three decades. So, solving the challenge of creating a more sustainable food ingredient supply chain is not as simple as just cutting out animal-derived products and confectionery manufacturers can make an impact by harnessing the potential of ingredients derived from by-products. In this way, they can ensure these ingredients are properly valued for their versatility and nutritional value, while also helping to create a circular, waste-free food system. 

With origins as a pure protein, gelatin is well positioned to address the demand for clean label products – even in confectionery. Gelatin is entirely natural and it fulfils several formulation functionalities in one ingredient – helping to keep labels sort. By acting as bulking agent to replace sugar, gelatin can also enable sweets brands to formulate healthier confectionery. 

Editorial contact:
Editor: Kiran Grewal