A work in progress

Since taking up his position of Caobisco president 18 months ago, Alessandro Cagli believes the industry has made solid progress in terms of collaboration, education, innovation and product formulation. Katie Smith reports.

When taking up his role at the Association of Chocolate, Biscuit and Confectionery Industries of Europe (Caobisco) in July 2016, Cagli set out a clear agenda for the association, focusing on collaboration, education, innovation and product formulation. Since then, the trend around sugar reduction has progressed, with plans being activated both at a national level; for example, the UK’s 20 per cent sugar reduction target by 2012, as well as at EU level.

“Of course, everyone can and should do its part to contribute to a reduction of NCD’s (noncommunicable disease) in the population at large,” Cagli says. “However, we do feel that the tools currently promoted to achieve this objective are not necessarily the best and most effective ones.

Taxes, health warnings, for instance in Chile, or red lights and marketing restrictions on food products will not obtain measurable benefits in terms of NCD reduction and public health, he adds. “So, while we certainly should do – and are already doing – our part in order to help consumers to build overall balanced and varied diets, a big effort is certainly needed in terms of consumer education, with a view to developing an adequate ‘food culture’ that will ultimately allow people to be healthy, while at the same time also able to enjoy mindful quantities of the sweet products they love best.”

Collaboration 

Speaking a couple of months after his appointment, Cagli said a true ‘whole-of-society’ effort and multi stakeholder collaboration were needed to address the global obesity challenge. And now, that approach is being taken more seriously by all actors involved, he believes.

He notes, “For example, we were happy to see that the recent Montevideo Roadmap 2018-2030 on NCD’s as a sustainable development priority specifically calls “on the private sector, ranging from microenterprises to cooperatives and multinationals, to contribute to addressing NCDs as a development priority.”

To this end, Caobisco has developed a new form of working through specific projects, which allow participating members to get involved in specific sustainability, nutrition and health or other topics that matter to them, showcasing as appropriate their involvement in corporate social responsibility initiatives.

One example of a project the association is carrying out is in Turkey, with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The groups have initiated a public-private partnership project on eliminating the worst forms of child labour in seasonal hazelnut harvesting, with the financial support of Caobisco and the Netherlands.

An education-based intervention model developed by the ILO reached out to 3,154 children and has led to 2,296 children so far being withdrawn from, or prevented from, entering work since 2013. Families, rural intermediaries and hazelnut garden or plantation owners have received counselling and training, according to Cagli.

The project, he says, has fostered awareness raising and encouraged national and local ownerships, including transferring knowledge and skills to the relevant institutions. A monitoring system has been established to track the school attendance of targeted children and a circular issued by the Ministry of National Education on the access to education of the children of seasonal agricultural workers.

Another collaborative project Caobisco is working on is establishing a sustainable cocoa supply chain, with high quality standards and productivity whereby cocoa is safe for consumer consumption, complies with manufacturers’ quality requirements and meets growing global demand. Caobisco, alongside the European Cocoa Association (ECA) and the Federation of Cocoa Commerce (FCC), are committed to working towards more sustainable cocoa which complies with such requirements for consumer, manufacturer and farmer benefit.

“As the overall productivity for cocoa has not changed significantly in decades – current average cocoa yields are around 400kg/ha – the rehabilitation of existing cocoa producing land (by using improved planting material), improving soil fertility, and the management of cocoa pests and diseases are considered key priorities,” Cagli says.

Over the last few years, Caobisco, ECA and FCC have worked on defining good agricultural practices for food safety in cocoa. “Given the deteriorating yields and quality levels in several countries, the growing consumer interest in cocoa sustainability and to develop closer links with producing countries, a review of sustainable industry needs in terms of quality and productivity is a key priority for this project,” he adds.

Education: portion sizes

In its 2016 engagements on nutrition and health, Caobisco outlined portion sizes as an important element for promoting ‘mindful eating’ of its products. The EU Commission openly welcomed this input and is awaiting further steps from the sector, to support its strategy to promote product improvement, according to Cagli.

“Although a sector-wide specific commitment is not possible for both practical and legal reasons, we feel it is appropriate and worthwhile to promote activities from the frontrunners, identifying elements that help validate their approach and inspire a way forward for the others,” he explains.

“We are also working to see to what extent we could apply at European level experiences coming from other countries in terms of consumer guidance and education to a mindful portion approach, such as the Always a Treat initiative in the US and the Australian and UK experience with Be Treatwise.”

The ultimate goal of this project, Cagli says, is to showcase to authorities and other stakeholders how small portions can contribute to promote mindful eating, thus reducing calorie intake, while still being able to enjoy a sweet treat.

A menu of options 

In terms of innovation and product formulation, Cagli says Caobisco manufacturers have a ‘menu of options’, which gives them the necessary flexibility to play their role in the fight against obesity, while at the same time preserving the taste, pleasure and enjoyment their products bring to consumers. “Actions concerning innovation and product formulation are included on this menu of options,” he comments.

Despite technical difficulties, Caobisco members have almost eliminated industrially produced trans fatty acids (TFAs) from their products, and are making “important progress” in creating and reformulating foods with less sugars and/or saturated fats, Cagli explains.

Responsible advertising has also been high on the agenda for both Cagli and Caobisco over the last 18 months. “We have been busy assessing to what extent there are gaps to be filled at EU level (by enlarging the membership of the ‘EU Pledge’ initiative to small and medium-sized companies active in our sectors on a European scale,” Cagli notes.

This, he adds, “is in addition to the large players who already are founding members of that Pledge), as well as at national level (by helping to stimulate the launch of ‘local pledges’ where similar initiatives in agreement with the respective governments do not yet exist).”

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