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Sam Howard speaks to Willie Wood, s to find out how partnerships with produ

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senior sustainable horticulture manager at CFL ucers and growers worldwide are impacting the products found on UK supermarket shelves October 2011 115

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art of the AG Thames group of companies, Chingford Fruit Limited (CFL) was founded in 1966. Over the last forty four years AG Thames has continued to grow through the acquisition of companies within key areas of its business. The group now employs 480 people with offices in South Africa, Italy, Spain, New Zealand and Chile. Climate change, water scarcity and overexploitation of resources can all seriously threaten our food security and the long-term sustainability of agricultural production. By sourcing with integrity and forming partnerships with growers at farm level, CFL aim to raise both environmental and social standards and move towards genuine sustainability. In practice this means working with growers to initiate change at farm level and foster greater consideration for the economic, environmental and social impacts of their activities.

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According to studies by Pimental (1999) and Granatstein & Kumpferman (2006), the human population is adding more than a quarter of a million people daily and is set to grow to 12 billion within the next 40 years. The production and supply of sufficient food worldwide will therefore become an increasingly challenging task. To all intents and purposes, for global food supply to meet this dramatically increasing human population the dependence on landbased agriculture can only intensify. Currently more than 99 per cent of food comes from these systems, the balance (less than 1 per cent) from the oceans and fresh water

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systems. In short, farming is the primary means of converting solar energy into food for human kind and no other approach is likely to replace it. Agricultural productivity and food supply are directly dependent upon the adequate availability and supply of natural resources such as fertile land, fresh water, energy and natural biodiversity. These critical natural resources, and the complex natural cycles and processes that maintain them, are under increasing pressure and threat from agricultural production itself. The challenge is to increase agricultural output while at the same time preserving and restoring the underlying natural resource base that enables it. Farming needs to function in such a way that

Chingford Fruit Limited

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Fruitforthefuture Volatile prices, unpredictable weather patterns

organisations—large exporters and importers of agricultural

and surging demand from emerging economies are

produce who must achieve a fine balancing act in interfacing

combining to threaten food security across the globe,

between market demand and the realities of life for farmers, all

putting farmers under more pressure than ever before.

the while demonstrating that they are managing risk effectively.

Never has the need to ensure sustainable long-term

With such conflicting forces at work within the supply chain,

food production been so crucial.

introducing an end-to-end sustainability strategy will always be

Similarly, retailers selling the end product are coming

a challenge, says Farrell. “For farmers or suppliers, business

under increasing pressure from consumers to source

life is full of pressure, and to find the mind space to really stand

sustainably and reliably. They are being challenged on

back and reflect on sustainability as a subject really requires

issues such as carbon footprint and ethical trading;

a different level of thinking. It’s not straightforward—it’s about

and it’s clear that if they can’t provide the answers,

challenging our very ideas about the way our modern society

their businesses will suffer as a result.

works, and that’s difficult. The challenge for us is finding a way

South Africa-based consultancy Blue North has

to translate these concepts into practical programmes.”

recognised that agricultural sustainability is now a

Blue North’s first step is always to present its clients with a

strategic imperative, both for retailers at one end of the

very clear concept of sustainability. “We have carried out a lot of

supply chain, and farmers at the other—not to mention

research—almost at an academic level—to ensure that we are

the importers and exporters who sit in between. Blue

confident of our concept,” says Farrell. “And then we support

North was set up to assist businesses and supply

that with knowledge resources—for example, we might do

chains to overcome sustainability-related constraints

work on water, soil health or biodiversity, so that we can share

derived from consumer expectations and/or physical

those ideas with the client in order to have a comprehensive

scarcity of resources. The company’s approach is to

knowledge base on different pillars of sustainability.”

build clarity and understanding of sustainability, identify

Having defined its concept, Blue North then conducts a risk

current and future sustainability-related constraints,

assessment to identify areas of potential weakness. From this the

and develop and implement the most appropriate

most appropriate responses are identified and prioritised. The

responses within operations and across supply chains.

programme aims at building management focus and momentum

Blue of








mechanism, so we can do the important things first and deliver


improvements early on. This makes the subject a little bit more

and response formulation; carbon, water and waste

digestible,” explains Farrell. What remains can then be translated

lifecycle analysis; and social compliance programmes

into a sensible, executable sustainability strategy.



early on: “We find points of leverage to provide a focusing





development and implementation, as well as research

As it enters the implementation phase, Blue North draws

and knowledge resource development. The company

on its extensive practical experience in rolling out large-scale

draws on the experience of a network of leading

sustainability projects. Farrell’s experience with South African

sustainability organisations such as the WWF, Forum

exporter Colors Fruit, for example, includes work on broad-

for the Future and the Carbon Trust

based carbon footprinting and putting in place a large-scale

“Agricultural sustainability is absolutely foundational.

social compliance programme—all the while working with

That’s our area of focus and the space where we have

farmers on the ground. It’s that ability, he says, to take high-

experience—and where need will continue to grow,”

level strategy and translate it into practical programmes that

comments Blue North’s co-founder David Farrell.

is the key strength of Blue North. “You can have a wonderful

Blue North’s clients are predominantly big commercial

strategy,” he says, “but it’s no use if you can’t deliver it.”

South African consultancy Blue North specialises in transforming agricultural supply chains, using its sound knowledge base and proven expertise to deliver practical, long-lasting improvements at ground level

One company currently benefiting from Blue North’s expertise

manage and report on the improvement actions

is Chingford Fruit, whose client is a major UK-based supermarket.


“In terms of the supply chain, Chingford are very close to

structures started in earnest in August. “This amounts





their client, so they feel the pressure to answer sustainability

to nothing less than a large-scale change management

challenges more keenly. And they are not just dealing with

exercise: it is the only way to meaningfully grapple

one country’s product—they source from around the world, so

with sustainability and deliver real improvement,” says

we’re talking multiple supply chains. They have retailers and

Farrell. “It’s going to take time: there’s no quick fix.”

consumers on the one side who are asking questions that they

In many ways, pressure from the end retailer is

need to be able to answer effectively and with conviction related

crucial in helping to drive a project of this nature to





on the other side they’re dealing with agricultural businesses from around




production everywhere is facing some fairly severe challenges right now related to issues such as water, soil and pest management; so the challenge is to make sure that Chingford has a sustainable business not just two years from now, but 20 years from now—one where they have a secure supply base and where their position with their market is secure.” Blue North’s work with Chingford began earlier this year with a review of the company’s needs as

a satisfactory conclusion. “Chingford could see that if

well as the sustainability strategy of its retailer client. “The last few

they didn’t respond in a meaningful way to the issue of

months have been very focused on building the most appropriate

sustainability, it was going to have a negative impact

strategy—one able to effectively deliver sustainability across a

on their relationship with the client. We didn’t need

complex supply chain,” Farrell explains. “Then we moved to

to sell sustainability to them; they just needed some

developing more detailed risk assessment tools which we can

support in developing a programme to deliver.”

use with the farmers supplying Chingford.”

Looking forward, Blue North is seeking to remain

Across all the supplying regions, Blue North has helped

within the agricultural sector and apply its extensive

to create what are in essence sustainability ‘study groups’,

existing experience to agri-industries including the

consisting of farmers and Chingford’s suppliers. Within each

wine, vegetable and grain sectors. “We’re looking

particular product group, structures and forums have been

at companies with large agricultural footprints, and

created to facilitate meaningful discussions on how to deal with

who have a great dependence on the ongoing health

sustainability challenges, building off the reality and experience

and viability of that agricultural base—that’s where

of the farmers who make up the supply base. These structures

we feel we can add the most value,” he concludes.

also provide the forums through which the participants will

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output is maintained or enhanced over the long term without the depletion of the natural resources that are essential to achieving this productivity. In other words, there needs to be a shift away from non-sustainable modes of operation, towards more sustainable methods of agricultural production. As a dedicated and significant supplier of citrus, top fruit, stone fruit and kiwi fruit. CFL must ensure it is always in a position to proactively understand

and effectively respond to the vision, values, direction, drivers and priorities that define its customer’s own strategy as it evolves and is expressed over time. Over the course of the last year CFL has developed and is successfully driving a very clear and strong strategy with achieving sustainable supply chains as the central theme. “Our strategy has been developed in

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a manner that reflects the business’s desire to translate our customer’s aspirations and needs into a robust strategy that the company can own,” explains Willie Wood. “It is aimed at equipping CFL to become leaders in the field of global sustainable fruit supply chains.” Within the Chingford organisation, the term sustainability is no longer a soft subject but has been encoded into its procurement policies and practices and will increasingly be shaping the make-up, characteristics and performance of its entire supply chain. In the last 12 months CFL has heavily invested in internal expertise to support its suppliers and growers. The new sustainable horticulture team is aligned directly to its global top fruit, citrus, stone and kiwi fruit supply chains. In many countries, Chingford’s global supply chains are already delivering advanced farming practices and showing a willingness

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to collaborate further to innovate and improve. From this platform the Chingford team is actively engaging its wider grower base to buy into the benefits of collaborative working and the implementation of industry best practice. A fundamental feature of the strategy is appreciation for the critical role that the grower plays in determining sustainability performance, not only of the farm, but the entire supply-chain. “Primary agriculture sits at the base of the triangle upon which the entire supply chain stands,” explains Wood. “Primary fruit production is not only the source of the physical flow of product, that binds the CFL supply

chain together, but the point with the greatest influence and impact, be it positive or negative on the key subjects across the sustainability spectrum, including soil health, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, water,

food security, socioeconomic development of communities, greenhouse gas emissions, nonrenewable energy use and ethical trade.” CFL’s sustainable supply chain strategy

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Chingford Fruit Limited is built on an understanding that CFL sits at the interface between a network of global fresh fruit supply chains and its customer. The role that CFL must play strategically within the total supply chain demands that Chingford’s strategy, development and implementation, reflects two realities; one that is informed by the supply side factors and the other from the strategic needs and objectives of their customer. In other words, CFL has the responsibility to not only formulate strategy in response to the market needs, but also to be informed by, and in

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Primary agriculture sits at the base of the triangle upon which the entire supply chain stands

turn influence, consumer strategy based on its understanding of farm level and supplier realities. CFL’s sustainable supply chain strategy is a significant strategic undertaking, built on the understanding of the clear strategic intent of their customer, its role and responsibility within the supply chain, the need to address the challenge

of sustainability in a proactive way and the central role of the grower in achieving the desired outcomes. CFL has already committed significant resources to the formulation of the strategy, putting in place the required internal structures and securing the initial buy-in not

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Our strategy has been a manner that reflects desire to translate o aspirations and need strategy that the comp

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n developed in s the business’s our customer’s ds into a robust pany can own

Chingford Fruit Limited

only from suppliers and growers around the globe but also from their customer. CFL’s contention is that, while sustainability is a complex and difficult subject, it is a subject that needs to be earnestly and urgently grappled with. By building a strategy on well considered, principles-based and a primary agriculture centric approach, CFL is confident that it is positioned to facilitate and catalyse a sincere and meaningful move towards the achievement of true sustainability for its farm base and supply chain. BE

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Chingford Fruit  

Sustainable horticulture

Chingford Fruit  

Sustainable horticulture