Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Nestle will be investing CHF 2 billion (USD 2.1 billion) to find a solution to plastic waste, including using food-grade recycled plastics and reducing single-use plastics. However, the CEO said that the food industry would have to continue using plastic, and that recycling plastic in a way that was safe to use for food was a big challenge. As such, they will focus on finding ways to ensure that the plastic can be “infinitely recyclable” so it doesn’t end up as waste in landfills or nature. 

Similarly, Coca-Cola said it would not scrap single-use plastics for the time being as it would alienate consumers. The head of sustainability explained that plastic bottles were easy to carry and to close and that switching to cans or glass would actually push the group’s carbon footprint up. Similar to Nestle, the company is aiming for what it calls a “circular economy” and to have at least half of its packaging made from recycled waste by 2030. In France, half of a EUR 1 billion (USD 1.1 billion) investment will be used to increase the amount of recycling, as well as switch from using plastic in the secondary packing to using cardboard. Coca-Cola also said it would spend USD 11 million to clean up several rivers around the world, as well as educate locals about reducing waste. 

In the UK, ASDA is testing out the option of letting shoppers refill containers for things like pasta, cereals and coffee as well as setting up a machine where customers can drop cans and plastic bottles. It is working with Unilever and Kellogg on the project which, if successful, could be rolled out to more shops later in the year. 

Environmentalists had mixed reactions to the announcements by Nestle and Coca-Cola. Greenpeace, for one, said that recycling was not the ultimate solution. Food and drinks manufacturers must stop relying on plastic altogether, it said. They are also sceptical of clean up plans. In the same vein, China is banning the use of plastic bags this year in main cities and in the rest of the country by 2022, with the exception of fresh products which can still be sold in plastic bags up until 2025. 

BlackRock announced sustainability would officially be part of their investment strategy from now onwards. The CEO said that sustainability made business sense, with US investments into sustainable funds quadrupling in 2019. Analysts argue this is significant, as the fund, which manages some USD 7 trillion, has finally caved in after being ranked one of the companies with the worst voting records on climate issues.

Olam announced it is reorganising its business units into two separate groups – global agribusiness and food ingredients. Commodities such as cocoa, coffee, nuts and dairy will come under the latter, Olam Food Ingredients, while grains, oil and feed will be included in Olam Global Agri. Both groups, which could eventually go through an initial public offering, will be headed by Olam International. The CEO explained that the aim was to be able to capture growth in new, trending markets while leveraging on the existing capabilities of the Agri group. As part of the restructure, Olam sold its Californian onion and garlic facility to investment group Mesirow Financial in December 2019. It also sold part of its shares in Arise, a Special Economic Zone in Gabon. 

COFCO, which expects a record operating profit for 2019, is expanding operations in Russia and other countries under the Belt and Road project. The group has been restructuring its grain business, which included the departure of the head of grains, and strengthened its international presence in 2019. The chairman explained that the government’s directions have been to ‘go global,’ all the while ensuring food security and reducing poverty in China. As such, COFCO has been using e-commerce platforms and cooperative-type businesses to help farmers. Technology has been key to helping Chinese farmers make more money without having to move to the city. For instance, farmers are increasingly using video platform apps to create a direct link with buyers and show them where the product is from, with payments also being done through the apps. Alibaba-owned giant e-commerce app Taobao has even been training farmers on how to livestream. 

Plant-based meat company Quorn announced it would start disclosing the CO2 footprint on some of its products as well as include a comparative graph so that shoppers can understand the environmental implications of what they eat. The company also wants to come up with a “Recommended Daily Allowance” equivalent for CO2 consumption, instead of just for calories. 

Talking of calories, the US Department of Agriculture has some good news. It found that the method used to calculate calories – which is 200 years old – often leads to the actual calorie content being overestimated. Their study on whole nuts found that nuts are harder to digest than initially thought, which leads to less fat being absorbed and therefore fewer calories. 

This summary was produced by ECRUU

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