Spearheading Sustainability Throughout the Avocado Supply Chain
Johnathan Sutton, ESG, Safety & Research Executive, Westfalia Fruit Group
As the company with the largest avocado-growing footprint in the world, Westfalia Fruit is recognized as the #AVOEXPERTS. But it’s the history behind the hashtag that sets the company apart: Westfalia has been committed to growing, sourcing, ripening, packing and processing avocados in a sustainable manner ever since its founding by Dr. Hans Merensky (known as the father of modern avocado production) in 1949.
Progressive Grocer reached out to Johnathan Sutton, ESG, Safety & Research Executive, to learn how the company is advancing sustainability initiatives throughout its global supply chain.
Progressive Grocer: Companies in almost every sector are being challenged to reduce their carbon footprint. Is that something Westfalia Fruit is focused on?
Johnathan Sutton: We absolutely are! In 1949, Westfalia was born out of a vision centered around sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices in South Africa where the Westfalia Estate still operates today. We are literally rooted in sustainability and that theme remains embedded in today’s initiatives. In 2020, we developed a refreshed, modernized initiative called the Westfalia Fruit International Environmental Strategy. As part of that commitment, we’ve set long-term targets that will culminate in us becoming ‘lifetime carbon neutral’ by 2049. In our efforts to hit those targets, we’re regularly reviewing and measuring our carbon and water footprints and waste; creating partnerships to optimize impact; engaging stakeholders; and focusing on the reduction of plastics throughout the supply chain.
In 2021, Westfalia Fruit reduced its carbon footprint per kilogram of fruit by 5%, its waste to landfill by almost 9%, its liquid fuel used by 26%, and electricity usage by 4%. At the same time, it increased recycled waste by 28%, water use effi ciency by 14%, and own electricity generation by 50%. That progress has brought us closer to reaching our long-term sustainability goals.
PG: What are the long-term targets you’re striving to hit?
JS:They encompass many elements of our comprehensive green energy strategy: to evaluate climate-change impact; improve water-use efficiency; maintain and enhance biodiversity; reduce or remove plastic from our packaging; minimize environmental impacts; improve the efficiency of fuel and electricity use; and reduce waste at all levels.
PG: You’ve mentioned that reducing plastics and waste are important goals. How are you approaching those important issues from a sustainability perspective?
JS: Our objective is to remove, recycle or re-use plastic material. Our Westfalia France operation, has removed 100% of plastic from consumer packs using an innovative cardboard tray, which protects avocados and eliminates the need for plastic. Our Westfalia Netherlands operations has developed an alternative clamshell and avocado box from recycled materials, reducing the usage of plastic. We will continue to utilize fully recyclable materials until a suitable alternative to plastic is found, and re-use bulk materials such as transit boxes to help reach our goals.
When it comes to waste, we are ambitiously targeting zero-waste-to-landfill by minimizing waste generated; returning compostable waste to farmland where possible; and diverting waste to biomass-energy producers or alternative recycling schemes. In 2020, we reduced waste sent to landfill by a further 9.8%. We’re also utilizing patented technology to extend product shelf life, significantly reducing in-store wastage, and we continue to optimize the use of High-Pressure Processing (HPP) to achieve 0% fruit waste.
PG: Why does this matter to grocery retailers?
JS: Today’s shoppers want both quality and sustainability in the products they buy. Nearly 80% of U.S. consumers consider sustainability (of a product, retailer, or brand) when making at least some purchases1 and younger generations are increasingly willing to pay more for products with the least negative impact on the environment.2 Growing, sourcing, ripening, packing and processing our avocados in a sustainable manner ensures that the grocers who carry them are giving customers what they want: prime-quality fruit that’s sustainable, too.