Olam Food Ingredients targets key sustainability gains for Turkish hazelnut market

The international Olam Food ingredients business has released its first public sustainability targets for 2030 across its supply chain in Turkey, where 70% of the world’s hazelnuts come from.

Confectionery Production’s editor Neill Barston exclusively quizzes Ashok Krishen, CEO of the company’s nuts business on progress it has made, and how it is set to drive additional momentum on improving conditions within key markets, with crops destined for a number of segments including confectionery.


Q: How does the continued market demand for hazelnuts in a number of market segment including confectionery place further pressure on the company in meeting its commitments for sustainability?

A: Hazelnuts have long been a consumer favourite and that’s only set to grow as people continue to seek out food that’s naturally nutritious and delicious. In fact when it comes to confectionery, according to Innova Market Insights 60% of new products launched in 2020 that include nuts used hazelnuts. And that’s before you get to other products, where Innova Market Insights found that out of all new product launches in 2020 in Europe that include nuts, 41% included hazelnuts. From nut-based spreads to plant-based snacks, hazelnuts add flavour, texture and nutritional benefits to so many of the products that consumers enjoy.

At the same time, this popularity needs to be sustainable. Consumers want their confectionery, snacks and drinks to taste great, but also to have been produced in a way that’s good for farmers and the environment. They want to know that workers’ human rights have been respected, and that they’re working in safe conditions.

Meeting this demand is a challenge. 70% of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, where unsafe working conditions and child labor have been clear challenges ever since we started our first sustainability projects there a decade ago. We’ve made some big leaps in tackling those issues, but there’s more we need to do as an industry to secure the future of hazelnuts and ensure safe and fair working conditions become the norm.

This scrutiny will only increase – not just for food ingredients, but for other industries operating around the world like textiles, too. It’s important that we and others operating in these high risk sectors accelerate the progress and continue to work with the government and regional authorities to support these people. As ofi, we’re innovating across the whole of our business to set specific targets to address these challenges, as well as give our customers and partners more insight into the supply chain.

Hazelnut Trail, which we’re launching today, hopes to do just this. It follows the launch of our Cashew Trail sustainability strategy in June and builds on what we’ve learnt there, as well as our sustainability work for other ingredients, like cocoa and coffee. By setting targets, defining metrics, and reporting on progress through the sustainability insights platform AtSource, we’re offering customers transparency across the supply chain. This means they get assurance that their hazelnut products not only taste great, but are also supporting rural communities and have a lower carbon footprint.

Q: How are your partnerships working on the ground? Issues of child labour in Turkey have traditionally been hard to monitor due to the seasonal nature of agricultural work, what have you found is the most effective way of tackling the problem?

A: ofi has been working on the ground with farmers in Turkey since 2013. Right from the outset, we have worked with the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to carry out spot audits on our hazelnut supply chains and these are all published on the FLA’s website . It’s something we’ve found to work well across our business – the FLA has also been conducting assessments in our cocoa supply chains since 2013.

That has helped us to understand the scale of issues like child labour and unfair working practices, as well as find effective solutions to some of these challenges. We were the first business in the sector to introduce labor contracts in 2018 . These contracts set minimum wage guarantees and legal working hours – a first for both the hazelnut and Turkish agricultural sector.

Partnerships have been an important piece of the puzzle, too. Our work with the FLA’s Harvesting the Future Project has also allowed us to map the profiles and movement of farm workers as they travel the country from one crop to another. That means we can conduct risk and needs assessments. And in partnership with Save the Children, we have also been able to analyze incidences of child labor in Turkey to better understand the problem.

Once you can identify the problem, you’re then able to be the change on the ground. In collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) we have established summer schools as safe spaces for the children of migrant workers to play, learn and not work. The FLA assessments in 2018 credited the summer schools with a decline in child labor, recording a five-year low of 6% of children working on the hazelnut farms, in comparison to 22% from a control group.

Digital tools are also an essential part of the solution. Over 9,000 of our hazelnut farmers are registered on the Olam Farmer Information System (OFIS), which uses GPS and detailed surveys to give them a new level of insight into how to increase yields and quality. It also includes important information about the workforce and communities. For instance, we can see if there’s no school in an area and take action to create a safe space for the children. In turn, that makes instances of child labor less likely.

Q: Are there any major trends that you have seen emerging within the segment, such as the drive for wellbeing products featuring nuts – do you see these continuing?

A: We’re definitely seeing consumers looking for more wholesome products, but they want more than just nutritional benefits. They also want products that excite the senses and offer new and exciting tastes. The challenge is bringing together those functional benefits with fantastic flavors. And then at the same time, being able to assure customers that the food they’re eating has been sourced and produced in a way that’s good for people and the environment.

For us at ofi, this is an opportunity to bring together products and expertise from across our entire portfolio to co-create new products that deliver function and flavour, but also have a positive impact – from plant-based chocolate milk alternatives to a nut-based jalapeno spiced cheese.

Q: In what ways has the pandemic impacted on your efforts to deliver on your core targets for the industry? 

A: We have a strong on the ground presence in our hazelnut supply chain and that has always helped us to work closely with farmers to understand the challenges they face. But of course, that’s something that has been much more difficult in during the pandemic. Lockdowns and government orders have meant our teams have hot always been able to visit farms. So the pandemic has challenged us to innovate and transform how we interact with farmers. We’ve been using digital tools to connect with farmers, from SMS to messages on our digital platforms, to share information with them and make sure they’re on top of sustainability actions.


Q:  What are the greatest challenges remaining in delivering the long term sustainability for the industry?A: The positive impact we’ve made in hazelnut communities over the last ten years is thanks to public-private partnerships. When we work together with customers, NGOs, and national and local authorities, that’s when we’ve seen the biggest impact.

I mentioned before that there is still a lot to do to secure the future for hazelnuts and no company can deliver this alone at the speed and scale that’s really required. We hope that through Hazelnut Trail, we can help the industry cooperate even more closely through sharing what we’ve learned about what works, and setting ourselves targets to do more. And to get these, we are looking for new partners to help scale our efforts and positive impact so we can achieve our vision of a fair and resilient hazelnut supply chain.


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