Focus: CAOBISCO’s new president hails industry’s resilience amid confectionery sector challenges

With the World Confectionery Conference scheduled for next year, we speak exclusively to Aldo Cristiano, president of the CAOBISCO chocolate, biscuits and confectionery European trade organisation, ahead of his appearance as a keynote speaker at our event. Neill Barston reports


CAOBISCO marked its 60th anniversary with a special event at the end of last year, few could have predicted what would befall the world just a few months later amid the coronavirus pandemic. Every sphere of industry has been affected by covid-19, placing considerable strain on economies, supply chains and public services around the globe.

Notably, the food and drink sector has experienced its own fair share of major disruption during the course of 2020, yet its status as an essential sector has ensured that it has continued. It’s a factor that Aldo Cristiano strongly values in his position as recently appointed president of CAOBISCO, which continues to represent a total of 13,000 businesses with a combined monetary value of over €60 billion across Europe and far further afield.

“We have seen resilience within the industry – which has been called ‘system relevant’ by many nations, so that people continue to get food to their households and see food on the shelves. We’re extremely grateful to all those colleagues working in factories, living with all the new measures, who have been able to continue producing food and to deliver it with all the logistic problems there have been. That is a very important achievement indeed,” acknowledges Cristiano of what he describes as ‘unprecedented business conditions’ that the market is enduring. The sector expert, who is also head of institutional affairs and sustainability at Ferrero in Germany, explains that despite complexities caused by the pandemic, he remains impressed by the industry’s resolute attitude.

Clearly, one of the main impacts of the pandemic has been the fact very few of us have had the chance to meet in person, as nations around Europe and the rest of the world continue to introduce varying degrees of lockdown measures. Consequently, after becoming president of CAOBISCO back in June, Cristiano says with some regret, that conditions have not allowed the chance to have a formal handover in person with the organisation’s former postholder, Mary Barnard, whom he thanked for her efforts in steering the organisation forward (pictured below at the 60th anniversary).

As Confectionery Production has previously covered, during her two-year term in office, she championed a number of key initiatives on behalf of the trade organisation’s members. Having taken on ‘the hot seat’ at the helm of the organisation, he ensures that her legacy will be continued.

Significantly, Cristiano has a notable in-tray of pressing matters that include major recent issues such as CAOBISCO’s part in calling for an end to the EU/ US dispute on the Boeing/Airbus saga, which has seen the prospect of damaging tariffs on the food sector come into play.

However, this may well potentially find resolution with the incoming new US president Joe Biden, who has already signalled an early intent of rebuilding bridges with European nations. Then there are other key tests, including finding a way forward for nutritional front-of-pack labelling linked to new legislation across Europe from 2022, as well as seeking to ensure sustainability of production chains in supporting the operations in cocoa producing nations such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which remains a goal.

“We’ve just celebrated 60 years – and have all the heritage and traditions from our members across 27 states. It is crucial we co-ordinate and combine to speak with one voice to EU policy makers. “In the past couple of years, we have built a new focus. As part of this, the upcoming Green Deal and Farm to Fork is our guiding roadmap. We have to take on such challenges and deliver with the great knowledge of our members, so that we can offer commitments and engage with policy makers, in order to be part of positive and impactful policies,” adds Cristiano, keenly aware of the scale of the tests that lie before him. He adds that the appointment of Muriel Korter (below) as its new director general, building upon the great work of her predecessor Marina Valverde, has been an important step for the organisation.

Challenges ahead

One of its most immediate issues remains the thorny subject of Brexit – which is set to be resolved by the end of December one way or another, with CAOBISCO’s president firmly believing that the EU and UK need to avoid a no deal scenario and notable impacts on the confectionery sector in terms of pricing and logistics challenges. In addition, the issue of sustainable sourcing remains very important, adding that the experience of having spent more than two decades working within the confectionery sector has given him a strong understanding of core issues of universal concern. He explains that he has expanded his knowledge of the industry beyond his company ties, through having been a board member at the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative.

As for present events, the past month has brought the issue of sustainability firmly in the spotlight following the publication of the NORC study from the University of Chicago. Its results found that even after two decades of effort, there remains a total of 1.56 million children exposed to child labour working within the cocoa sector.

“Sustainability is key – achieving sustainable supply chains is all about the regulatory framework that goes into it. It’s about due diligence, and CAOBISCO members are committed to ensuring that our products are manufactured responsibly and to the highest standards possible – today food is more safely produced than ever before. “It’s important that responsibility and high standards combine, as well as minimising our environmental impact and respecting human rights, which all have to be factored in,” notes Cristiano of the issue that remains firmly top of mind for many leading companies within the industry, as well as governments in major cocoa producing nations including Ghana and Ivory Coast.

He continues: “I strongly believe the recently launched EU multi-stakeholder dialogue on cocoa sustainability has a high level of engagement that will help on this issue, that will lead to a better turnaround. “Many issues we cannot accept, but results have shown that where companies have been active, child labour has been reduced by around 30 per cent.

Also, where they’ve been introducing a monitoring and remediation system then that figure is even higher, so there have been some positive impacts, but there is still more to do,” he says, noting there are presently many individual company initiatives to help improve the lives of farming communities in West Africa. While he welcomes their efforts, he believes there is a strong joint responsibility within industry, working with civil society groups and government for firm action, “Sustainability is not a light switch that you turn and off – you have to build it up seriously, and live it throughout your supply chain, products and their lifecycles.”

World Confectionery Conference

The issue of sustainability within the sector is clearly one of Cristiano’s driving passions, and he’s anticipating being part of our World Confectionery Conference, which is being rescheduled to 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, to talk on the subject as a keynote speaker at the event. “I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase and to discuss what our industry stands for, its role and achievements, as well as its future, and what we bring to society and the economy, both with our resilience when there are issues, and also when there is prosperity. “If we can continue to give pleasure and enjoyment to consumers while respecting and contributing to a sustainable supply chain, I think we can have a great role within society.”

As Cristiano notes, the confectionery sector continues to afford him many opportunities to help make a difference to its policies and engagement with the wider industry. In terms of some of other present focuses, one of the industry’s most prominent points of strategy has been in delivering its major ‘Treatwell’ campaign unveiled last year.

He says that the venture has had some promising initial feedback from across the sector in its core goal of both ensuring responsible production methods, as well as encouraging consumers to enjoy confectionery in a mindful manner. “The campaign helps us to reflect on our daily intake and to have the ability to provide a wide range of options for consumers. Like many things in life, moderation, balance and being mindful in what you do with confectionery products is crucial. “It is about enjoying moments of indulgence, which is part of treating yourself, and it is part of our culture- confectionery is there to bring pleasure for people to enjoy in a mindful way,” adds the president, who says he is looking forward to 2021 with renewed optimism, despite the range of notable challenges ahead.


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