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Marketing and Comms
Nestlé Asks Consumers How They Would Navigate Quest for Sustainable Palm Oil

Nestlé hopes that a new interactive platform, Beneath the Surface, will give viewers better insight into the complexity of palm oil supply chains and insight into how choices they make under different scenarios can lead to a range of outcomes and consequences.

To provide further consumer insight about the complex sustainability issues within the palm oil supply chain, Nestlé has launched Beneath the Surface — an interactive video platform that allows viewers to directly experience some of the challenges that Nestlé and other global companies face in sourcing palm oil.

The complexity of the palm oil supply chain is displayed through a series of decisions that viewers are asked to make in order to ensure a transparent and sustainable palm oil supply chain on a global scale.

As a recent report from Forum for the Future’s Edible Fats and Oil Collaboration points out, food businesses must view our most popular and sometimes problematic fats and oils (including palm, soybean, coconut and olive oils, and butter) not in isolation — but as part of a holistic system in order to create sustainable, future-proof supply chains. The fact is, some of the food industry’s attempts to cultivate and produce fats and oils more sustainably have actually risked worsening their environmental and social impacts. For example, palm oil production has been globally vilified due to its role in rampant deforestation, biodiversity loss and human rights abuses. More and more companies have worked, both individually and together, to create sustainable systems for palm production; but, many have opted to simply replace palm oil with another oil or fat — which could exacerbate the issues around palm production; no other oil crop is nearly as productive as palm, so they require exponentially more land and resources to produce.

While smaller companies such as Dr. Bronner’s have been able to invest the time, resources and capacity-building necessary to create an ethical, sustainable supply of the oil for their own use; overall, companies with Nestlé’s size and scale continue to contend with a multitude of players and factors that make this an elusive goal — as Nestlé admits in Beneath the Surface, the company pledged in 2010 to ensure deforestation-free palm oil supply chains; but only 70 percent met that standard as of December 2020. The new goal is to engage more smallholders and major suppliers to reach deforestation-free status by 2022, to continue to work to ensure full transparency, and to eliminate human rights abuses in the industry.

According to recent research* commissioned by Nestlé, around one in five millennial shoppers (17 percent) tends to avoid purchasing products containing palm oil or will actively check to see (20 percent). Almost half (45 percent) said they tend to avoid products containing unsustainable palm oil. 85 percent believe consuming sustainable products is important; however, one in ten (12 percent) say they don’t know exactly what to look for to establish if a product is actually sustainable. Of those who do actively check for palm oil and sustainable sourcing, eight out of ten (85 percent) look on the pack and a quarter (24 percent) look on company websites. One in ten of those surveyed feel that research into environmental creditability takes too long.

Nestlé sources palm oil produced by both large plantation owners and smallholders. The company says it remains committed to supporting smallholders to produce sustainably, and to improve their livelihoods and improve working conditions. When asked about the production of palm oil, more than half (56 percent) of people surveyed think Nestlé should work with small farmers, and only one in ten (11 percent) believe it shouldn’t.

In fact, 40 percent of the world's palm oil is produced by small-scale farmers. Stopping palm oil production by smallholders could have a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers, so it is important to continue doing so.

Nestlé hopes that Beneath the Surface will give viewers a better insight into the complexity of the palm oil supply chain and see how the choices they make under the different scenarios can lead to a range of outcomes and consequences.

Dr Emma Keller, Head of Sustainability at Nestlé UK & Ireland, said: “The Beneath the Surface platform enables users to take a peek at some of the dilemmas Nestlé and many other organizations face with palm oil every day. We hope that by having more open conversations about the complexity of sourcing ingredients such as palm oil, people can understand the issues and make better informed decisions when choosing products.

“We can all play a role towards a sustainable palm oil future where it contributes to protecting and restoring nature to the benefit of people, wildlife and the planet,” she added. “We are working on it and expect our consumers to continue to hold us to account.”

* Survey conducted in June 2021 by Insites Consulting. Total national representative sample of 1,001 people aged 25-40 years-old in the UK&I.