Sustainability: Essential to success in the European spice sector

Sustainability has been a priority in the European spice sector for many years. And now, the subject is getting a new boost. This is due to increased commitments from European companies and new regulations in Europe. As a supplier to Europe, sustainable practices are no longer voluntary; they are essential for success.

Changes in the European spice sector

Over the last few years, the European spice sector has aligned itself with the international sustainability agenda. Many organisations have made changes to improve their sustainability. In 2012, a group of companies and organisations set up the Sustainable Spice Initiative (SSI). SSI’s goal is to speed up and scale up sector-wide sustainability. Its members now include some of the main players in the European and international spice market, for example:

  • Fuchs Gruppe;
  • McCormick;
  • Nedspice;
  • Olam;
  • Royal Polak Spices;
  • Unilever; and
  • Verstegen.  

Sustainability is also a priority for the European Spice Association and other initiatives like the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming.

Individual European spice companies have expanded and adjusted their sustainability policies and projects. More and more are now including practices and commitments that follow the international development agenda and help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For example, Verstegen’s sustainability policy focuses on agroforestry and contributes to SDG 13: Climate action.

Stricter European regulations

There have been some developments in European regulation addressing the social, ecological, economic, and governance aspects of sustainability. As a result of the stricter regulations, companies are now putting higher sustainability standards in place in primary production and industrial processes. There is also a higher demand for information on spices exported to Europe.

Of the regulations, the European Green Deal (EGD), in particular, puts pressure on the European spice sector. The EGD is a package of actions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 while achieving economic growth. The proposed actions include:

  • reducing the use of pesticides and fertilisers;
  • increasing organic farming;
  • reformulating processed food;
  • changing food packaging materials; and
  • introducing new food labelling rules.  

The EGD policies include the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy. Both influence spice production and trade. As a result of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Food Business and Marketing Practices came into effect in 2021. So far, 65 companies and associations in Europe have signed the code of conduct. This includes some of the main spice companies and end-using industries.

In 2022, the European Parliament also approved an outline proposal for the EU Due Diligence Act. This Act requires EU companies and suppliers to the EU to meet stricter regulations on human rights, respect for the environment and good governance principles. The Act applies to larger companies only. But SMEs in emerging economies that supply these large companies may also be affected.

What can you do as an exporter of spices to Europe?

There is a lot that you can do, and it all starts with knowledge and strategy:

  • Explore the different sustainability policies of European buyers to learn more about their main concerns and priority areas;
  • Identify your main strengths and areas of improvement, and start investing in sustainability projects to tackle them;
  • Communicate your achievements clearly, and make sure you can measure them.  

Several free tools can help you:

  • To check for the main sustainability risks in spices, you can use the online MVO CSR Risk Checker. This tool allows you to identify the main areas of concern for specific spices from specific origins;
  • Once you understand where the potential risks in your supply chain are, a useful tool is the SDG Compass. This tool provides an interesting guide on how to integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals into your business;
  • SDG Industry Matrix showcases industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs;
  • The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s Business Reporting on the SDGs - An Analysis of the Goals and targets: 2022 contains tips on how to establish the SDGs in your business and report on them.  

Learn more

For more information on sustainability developments in Europe, read our study: Trends in the European spices and herbs market

For more information about the European Green Deal (EGD), read: The Green Deal - How will it impact my business?

Gustavo Ferro wrote this news article for CBI.

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