Why is collaborative development key to building and strengthening the organic ecosystem? Marcel Henneman, Managing Director Refining Business Bunge Loders Croklaan EMEA, and Erik van Straaten, Business Lead Organic, explain the way in which we are strengthening the future of organic food. This interview is part of our portrait series where we spill the beans, highlighting our efforts and the partnerships that are instrumental to our organic supply chains.
Left: Erik van Straaten doing a soil inspection with a farmer. Right: Marcel Henneman talking to women who collect shea in West-Africa.
You have been closely associated with the organic foods industry for a while now. What is the biggest trend you notice?
Marcel: It’s true that a lot has changed over the last few years. The taste and choice of consumers indicate a gradual but pronounced shift towards organic. Governmental regulations are also encouraging more food manufacturers and farmers to transition to organic. For instance, the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy includes a goal of growing EU organic acreage by 25% by 2030. This growth goal will support farmer conversion, create consumer awareness, and stimulate demand for organic products. And Bunge Loders Croklaan takes inspiration from this ambitious and much-needed plan.
What would you consider a challenge for the organic lipids market today? And how can the food industry address it?
Erik: What we see is that there is a growing need for scale and innovation when it comes to organic oils and fats. Lipids are used in a wide range of applications – from bakery to savory, plant-based, culinary, nutrition and more. The challenge though is that organic supply chains are not yet at the scale to facilitate mainstream business. And there’s still a lot to learn and develop when it comes to innovative solutions for these applications.
Marcel: Transitioning to organic is a shared journey within our industry. Thus, larger corporations need to step in to create the connections, scale, and reliability the organic industry needs to develop from niche to mainstream. Bunge Loders Croklaan saw this as our opportunity to link market demand to our suppliers and help drive the growth of what we call ‘the organic ecosystem’.
What do you mean by this ‘organic ecosystem’?
Marcel: Our organic ecosystem is a framework in which the supply chain is fully traceable, and all stakeholders can participate and contribute. As one of the leaders in this industry, Bunge Loders Croklaan has access to both farmers and large food companies looking to move into organic. We have the infrastructure and resources to serve them. And, we have the means to meet the need for scalable, reliable, validated supply chains, and innovation. In other words, we are well-equipped to bring it all together. And that’s exactly what we did.
Erik: Food manufacturers are willing to grow their organic portfolio but need a guaranteed and continuous supply of ingredients to do so. Through co-development within the value chain, we aim to understand and provide to both our farmers’ and our customers’ needs. Our origination teams are creating a growing number of dedicated transparent supply chains and we work with a wide global network of farmers. Some are already organic certified, some are in conversion, and many aspire to be. We play a facilitating role, collaborating intensively and joining links to make the necessary organic supply chains available, create scale and mitigate supply risks.
What makes this organic ecosystem unique?
Marcel: Our organic ecosystem is not a linear chain. It is more than that. It connects not only farmers but also all stakeholders, including fertilizer companies, food manufacturers and NGOs who can help to accelerate the transition to organic and regenerative agriculture. Together with our partners, we work closely with farmers to secure and guarantee high-quality, organic supplies for food manufacturers, while also guaranteeing the farmers' volumes. Our aim is to connect the different players, based on their specific requirements. That’s why we decided to invest in a separate team in Europe to channel our organic focus. It’s like a start-up within our own company.
Erik: It’s also good to mention the dynamics of trust which plays an important role in this model. One of the best ways to build trust is by being transparent. We validate all our organic supply chains. We provide support when it comes to quality, farming systems, risk mitigation and social aspects of our supply chains. Our customers can have insight all the way back to farm level and can contribute as well, making it a true ecosystem.
Marcel: Take our partnership with Planting Naturals. By partnering with Planting Naturals, we can source organic palm oil directly from certified farmers and local plantations in Sierra Leone. And so, a world of opportunities opens up for wider distribution not only for Planting Naturals but also, in extension, for all the 9500+ smallholders they work with. This shows how we can contribute to the organic supply chain by becoming a partner at farm level.
Be sure to read our interview with this partner to learn more!
What does the future of this organic ecosystem look like?
Marcel: It has been more than a year since we started to develop this. It’s really encouraging to see that we already have robust organic supply chains in place for all our base raw materials. We have organic certification for six of our refineries located in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, China and Malaysia and our customer base has been growing significantly.
Erik: Although organic has been around and growing for the past 30 years it is still in the early stages of mass adoption. Affordability continues to be a hurdle for many consumers. However, the premiums are likely to come down as more material becomes widely available. At the same time, as soon as a product’s environmental impact becomes a cost component, the price for conventionally produced food is likely to rise, narrowing this gap.
Marcel: Besides seeing success in numbers, what truly encourages us is the growing urgency around sustainability. Global firms are increasingly making sustainability and carbon commitments. From a market perspective, there is a push from conscious consumers, governments, and the European Commission for a greener supply chain. The changing climate is calling for urgent actions. And so, from farm to fork, we are breaking the barriers to eventually transition to regenerative agriculture in a more sophisticated way through industry-wide collaboration.