Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Louis Dreyfus, Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) announced they will be working together as part of an industry-wide collaboration to make agricultural shipping transactions completely standardised and digital. The companies explained that using blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would significantly reduce costs as well as improve transparency. The process, which has already started in grain and oilseed operations, should gradually be deployed for other commodities.

With this in mind, ADM and Cargill announced a joint venture called Grainbridge, a digital grains marketing platform to help farmers in North America market their grains. Cargill said the platform will be free and will let farmers use technology, such as data analytics, to improve their profitability. The platform is open to other grain companies too which will encourage farmers to use the ADM and Cargill transactions and contracts.

In the US, Cargill announced it developed robots to herd animals at its plants, including cattle and eventually turkeys, in a bid to improve animal welfare as well as to protect workers. The robot was approved by a famous animal behaviourist who said it was “a major innovation in the handling and welfare of farm animals.” The robot doesn’t look much like a human cowboy (you can check it out here) but it will be saying ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ to move the cows along. In Europe, Cargill announced it launched its Waxy Corn Promise program, an initiative to help it sustainably source all of its waxy corn – a type of corn used to produce starches.

Separately, Cargill Aqua Nutrition said it would not tolerate soy suppliers who violate its code of conduct, including deforestation. The announcement was made after a WWF report said that soybean demand had turned Brazil’s Cerrado area, one of the world’s most biodiverse places, into the planet’s most endangered region. Environmentalists are concerned the situation is about to get worse if Brazil’s newly elected president goes ahead with his plan to merge the ministries of agriculture and the environment. Similarly, the head of Greenpeace in Argentina said that “Argentina is in a forest emergency.” Nearly 25% of the country’s native forest has been cleared, with a big part going to grow soybean. An EU-based NGO said there was pretty much no traceability of soybean in the country.

Mondelez announced it would extend its Cocoa Life program to Brazil, a cocoa-sourcing sustainability program it already operates in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, India and the Dominican Republic. The program will aim to reduce deforestation in the Amazon as well as improve the welfare of farmers through yield improvements, among other things. This comes at a time when IRAdvocates, the human rights advocacy group which is suing Nestle and Cargill for aiding and abetting child slavery in West Africa, said it is planning to attack other chocolate makers, including Mars. IRAdvocates argued that any company sourcing cocoa from the Ivory Coast was complicit in using child labour. Nestle said that the companies that were working the hardest to end child labour were being targeted.

Going back to the WWF report, it also found that the world had lost over half of its invertebrate species between 1970 and 2014 as a result of increasing demand for food, water and energy. The report argued that the risk of water species disappearing was particularly high because of plastic pollution.

Tesco and Nestle announced they joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), a 91-member initiative which works to eradicate the number of nets and other fishing gear debris in the oceans, estimated to account for 10% of marine debris. Similarly, Danone said that by 2025  100% of its packaging should be ‘circular,’ by which it means recyclable, reusable or compostable, compared to 86% currently.

The concept of ‘circularity’ is also taking hold among those trying to combat food wastage. Researchers from a university in the UK have been looking at ‘circular economic thinking’ from the second world war as an inspiration, such as how to efficiently redistribute unsold food. Further up the supply chain, Maersk announced the second edition of its Food Track program which funds startups that look for technological solutions to the 1.3 billion mt of annual global food wastage.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Nestle and Unilever both reported strong third-quarter sales this week, helped by a strategy to increase prices, or “premiumisation”, as Nestle calls it. The firms pointed to higher oil prices and a stronger dollar as part of the motivations to increase prices, although Unilever said the move could eventually lead to a slight drop in sales volumes. They both expect overall sales to gain around 3% for the full year. Separately, Unilever dropped a plan to relocate its London HQ to the Netherland after investors opposed the move, although it did not comment on how it now plans to restructure after Brexit.

Nestle was also in the news this week because a federal appeals panel in San Francisco overturned the dismissal of a case brought forward by former child slaves who accused Nestle and Cargill of being complicit in forced labour in cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast. The appeals court said the firms took actions to make sure they would receive cocoa “at a price that would not be obtainable without child slave labour”.

Talking of price, the competitivity of US farmers is being put to the test as the trade war is pushing countries to impose duties on US agricultural products. China, for example, imposed a 70% duty on US pork which is a worrying development as the US National Pork Board says the country is “critical” for the industry to survive. Producers in Spain, Chile and Argentina are all reporting a surge in demand, but some still believe that the US will be able to compete by lowering prices thanks to their high efficiency, large-scale and low feedstock prices.

The situation does not look so promising for dairy producers in New York state who have been dealing with an oversupplied market for years, as demand for milk and Greek yoghurt is seeing a steady decline. Farmers are unlikely to lower production and are pushing to find new markets instead, resulting in a lot of waste. The Dairy Farmers of America cooperative reported that some 65,000mt of milk was dumped on farms in the Northeast as of July this year.

In a hope to remedy the situation, the US Trade Representative office said it will begin new rounds of trade talks with Japan, the EU and the UK, a move an analysis argued was vital for some industries. The US is also eyeing Japan, while the US Grain Council reiterated the importance of new pacts for the agricultural sector.

In Brazil, meanwhile, the head of Cargill said that the country’s biggest agribusiness challenge was the poor logistics infrastructure, adding that the situation was getting worse in part because of the high government-fixed truck rates. However, the National Land Transport Agency conceded that transport fees could be below the official freight table rates if all parties agreed and if it was clearly stated in the contract. The statement was made after they found that a large number of trucks were flouting the rules.

An analysis suggested that ABCD companies would have to spend at least BRL 700 million (USD 190 million) each if they wanted to run their own truck fleets in Brazil, which would end up costing them more than paying the 30% increase in freight rate. Regardless, a big part of the USD 1.4 billion Cargill has invested in Brazil over the last 6 years has been in logistics. On a separate note, the Cargill official said that the company is working on having 50% of its global workforce female by 2030.

Two worrying reports on climate change were published recently, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) said data for the first nine months of the year suggest that global carbon emissions will reach a new record in 2018, while the UN published a report saying that energy consumption needs to change drastically to avoid irreversible damage.

On a brighter note, food firms continue their push to develop cleaner and less polluting food. Applegate Farms, owned by the meat giant Hormel Foods, announced that it was investing in plant-based meat alternatives, while a report estimates that the plant-based market is now worth USD 3.7 billion. Food could also help the environment in another more unusual way: by making cement stronger. The IEA estimates that cement causes 7% of total CO2 emissions, but Britain’s Lancaster University found a way to use carrots to strengthen concrete by 80%, thus reducing the amount of concrete needed. Scottish-based CelluComp mixes in cellulose extracted from carrots, which it could also get from trees or most agricultural waste.

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Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Olam’s CEO argued that “the world’s food and agriculture system is broken” during a farmers’ event in India last week. Agriculture accounts for 25% of greenhouse emissions, uses 71% of the world’s fresh water and has already resulted in a 60% decline in wildlife. As such, he said, the world needs to invest nearly USD 50 billion in farm research to combat these problems against the current spend of USD 5 billion. At an event in the Philippines, he argued that companies needed to focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies. Taking Olam as an example, he argued that it made it easier to get loans, reduced risk in the eyes of investors and unlocked opportunities in the fast-growing market for sustainable development.

At yet another event in Singapore, he asked all those involved in the rice supply chain to adopt the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP) standard. He explained that rice fed half of the world’s population but its production was responsible for as many CO2 emissions as the whole of Germany. And because those who consume rice can’t afford a sustainability premium – unlike premium products like cocoa and coffee – it was up to brands and retailers to push for the change and educate consumers by procuring only SRP rice. “We must reimagine the whole supply chain,” an Olam official added. The company was also recently awarded an AGROW award for its involvement in helping small agriculture stakeholders.

Cargill has launched an alternative to fish oil for aquaculture feeds made from canola oilseeds. The company said that the plant-based product provided a much needed alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids to the fish industry at a time of growing demand. It is sustainable as it reduces the use of marine ingredients as well as entirely traceable since Cargill manages the whole value chain. In Ecuador, meanwhile, Cargill inaugurated a production plant which can make 165,000 mt/year of shrimp feed. Called the “world’s most modern shrimp feed plant,” it will contribute 20% of the 800,000 mt/year of feed produced in the country.

In India, the company has launched its first blended oil in the hope of capturing a bigger part of the country’s healthy oil consumption market. It also tied up with Safal, the retail arm of Mother Dairy that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, to sell its bran wheat flour.

In Ghana, Wilmar Africa is urging the government and private farmers to scale up the cultivation of palm oil to help produce its frying oil Frytol. The company currently imports 70% of the palm oil it needs. Wilmar also recently launched a cholesterol-free version of the oil in a bid to win over sceptical consumers, highlighting its health component and the fact that it was made locally.

The Danish Agriculture and Food Council along with the EU is trying to draft a system where a number on the label of a food product would reflect the impact on climate during its manufacturing. The policy would cover meat as well as plant products and would take into account water and land use, feed for livestock and CO2 emissions, among other things.

On a more global scale, seven food multinationals have come together under the Global Coalition for Animal Welfare to promote animal-friendly standards through the global food supply chain. Aramark, Compass, Elior, IKEA Food Services, Nestle, Sodexo and Unilever, which have a combined revenue of EUR 139 billion (USD 165 billion) and a consumer base of 3.7 billion people a day, will ensure animals are not caged, improve standards of chicken and fish welfare, antimicrobial resistance and adopt global criteria for transportation and slaughter.

In Australia, a 2017/18 audit found that half of Queensland’s cane farming businesses were not complying with the fertilisers law made to protect the Great Barrier Reef, according to Right to Information documents. No farmer has faced prosecution for flouting the rules or paid a fine, it said. The government launched a voluntary programme called best management practices under which it allowed farmers to decide the amount of fertiliser they wanted to apply within the legal limits. However, despite spending AUD 1 billion (USD 710.54 million) on this programme, there has been no indication of improvement in water quality, scientists said.

While the food industry has been the focus of sustainable and transparent policies, a Californian startup is hoping to bring the wine industry under the same lens. Ava Winery has managed to synthesise wine using molecular plant science, something they call “clean wine”. The founder explained that the aim was to make expensive wine more affordable, but also to bring transparency to the wine industry. At the moment, the use of a lot of ingredients, including pesticides sprayed on grapes, is not mentioned. The bioengineered wine should also use much less water and land.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Analysts are closely watching Louis-Dreyfus this week as it reported a 37% drop in net income for the first half of 2018, at USD 101 million compared to USD 159 million last year, amid challenging agricultural markets and recent internal reshuffling. The drop in profits was mostly attributed to a USD 65 million loss in soybean hedges, although the new CEO reassured the hedging would mean that returns from the crushing segment would be positive for the whole of 2018.
But the decision to award USD 400 million in dividends for 2016 and 2017 was described as worrisome by some who warned against removing so much equity in a difficult market environment. The dividend payment is part of a move from the majority shareholder who is aiming to increase her share in the firm from 80% to 96% by raising USD 900 million before a December deadline.

Louis-Dreyfus is not the only firm who has been reshuffling its staff recently, as Alvean – the joint venture between Cargill and Copersucar created to focus on sugar trading – confirmed that six more staff members have left since the COO left last month. The firm explained the move as part of an effort to maximise performance.

Agricultural markets have also kept an eye on the Presidential election in Brazil, as the right-wing Jair Bolsonaro won 46% of the vote on September 30, putting him in a good position to win the second round on October 28. Farmers have largely expressed their support for the candidate, as he promised to strengthen land ownership rules and reinforce security for rural producers. Both the soya association Aprosoja and coffee cooperative Cooxupe said most of their members would vote for him.
More recently, his agricultural advisor pledged that if elected, Bolsonaro would lower the fines imposed on farmers found breaking environmental laws and exit the Paris agreement because of the way it aims to avoid deforestation in the Amazon. Meanwhile, coffee and sugar futures have gained some ground following the first-round results, which have also strengthened the Brazilian currency.

While the Brazilian candidate might seek to ease deforestation laws, Wilmar pledged this week to accelerate its effort to reach a no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation (NDPE) palm oil supply chain, following a protest by Greenpeace in Sulawesi. Nonetheless, the NGO said the proposed plan was inadequate because suppliers would not be required to provide maps of their concessions. In response, Wilmar said forcing all its suppliers to provide maps might not be legal, although it pledged to work on a process to reach the goal by 2019.

Wilmar said it would reach a NDPE palm oil supply chain by 2020, which is also the deadline many major food producers have for guaranteeing deforestation-free ingredients. Unilever, Mars and Nestlé all have a 2020 no-deforestation deadline, while Nestlé said 58% of its palm oil supply was already free of deforestation.

Supporters of strong environmental laws highlight the importance of a sustainable supply chain in securing and maintaining preferential trade access. This week has also seen the EU re-evaluate the duty-free access it offers to some countries, as it launched a six months review of the duty-free quotas given to Cambodia and Myanmar because of human rights concerns. Cambodian exports could thus lose duty-free access in the next 12 month, although the Cambodian President remained defiant and defended the country’s sovereignty.

At the very end of the supply chain, Walmart is instructing some of it suppliers to register product information in a blockchain-based data platform, operated by the IBM Food Trust Network. Under the Walmart Food Traceability Initiative, suppliers of fresh leafy greens will have until 2019 to comply. While the move will initially aim to improve the safety of products by avoiding or controlling disease outbreaks, the firm said the platform could be extended to measure and manage sustainability criteria, such as soil health or irrigation methods.

Supermarkets also have to contend with rising concerns surrounding food waste, which is where the Israel-based Wasteless hopes to help, having secured USD 2 million in funds this week. The firm has developed a software which allows supermarkets to vary prices based on the date of expiration of products. A trial in a Spanish shop resulted in a 30% drop in waste and a 6% increase in revenue.

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Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Cargill’s net income grew to over USD 1 billion in the Jun-Aug (Q1) quarter, up 5% from USD 973 million in the same quarter last year. The company reported good results in the oilseed and beef segments which helped compensate for losses in the sweeteners and starch businesses. The CEO said Cargill would consider making an unusually big acquisition if it allowed the group to grow in the probiotics and prebiotics market. He argued this was a high-value-added segment which was poised to grow with the increasing demand from health-conscious consumers for alternative proteins, especially plant-based meat. With fish consumption also on the rise and limited fishmeal supply, Cargill said it is focusing on improving the quality of feed for fish farming. An aquaculture expert from the group said the quality standard had already improved drastically, adding that “This is our bread and butter.

Cargill is reportedly bidding against Wilmar, among other groups, to buy the assets of Ivory Coast’s bankrupt cocoa exporter SAF-Cacao. In Cameroon, meanwhile, Cargill and Telcar Cocoa paid CFA 2.2 billion (USD 3.8 million) in premiums to cocoa farmers this year based on a CFA 50/kg (USD 0.08/kg) premium for certified cocoa. The companies, which have been conducting training programs to help farmers boost production, said this would go a long way to improving their livelihoods.

Having just secured a USD 1.425 billion revolving credit facility (RCF) to refinance its existing debt, Olam is said to be considering buying North America’s top independent cocoa processor Blommer Chocolate. Olam, which the world’s third-biggest cocoa processor, already supplies cocoa to Blommer and both companies work together on sourcing sustainable cocoa in Ivory Coast and Indonesia. In Gabon, Olam said it had doubled its palm oil production in the first half of 2018 after two plantations were revived. Meanwhile, Cosumar, along with Wilmar, announced it would build Africa’s first vegetable fat factory in Casablanca, Morocco. Expected to be commissioned in 2020, the plant will focus on exporting to the Middle East and the rest of Africa.

September saw the US’ first edition of the National Palm Done Right (PDR) Month, the aim of which was to “Celebrate the Positive Side of Palm Oil.” As part of efforts to reduce deforestation, Nestle will be able to monitor all of its palm oil supply chain by the end of the year thanks to a new satellite technology designed by Airbus and TFT. With this, the group says it will be able to spot deforestation as soon as it starts. Nestle hopes to source all of its palm oil sustainably by 2020, from 58% in 2017. Cargill pointed out that the hardest was traceability all the way to the plantation. As of the end of 2017, the group reached 96% traceability to the mill and 55% to the plantation.

The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace NAFTA following an agreement reached by the three countries on September 30. The updated treaty still has to be approved by each country’s legislature, which could take months, while most provisions are not due to take effect until 2020. An analysis, meanwhile, suggested that the new treaty is a reworked version of the previous administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And while announcing the new treaty, the US President set his sight on two new targets: the protectionist trade policies of India and Brazil, which he called the “toughest” on earth.

Trade relations with China, on the other hand, have not improved which is worrying US soybean producers who are starting their harvest and expect a huge crop. The head of Bunge said producers will start storing as much soybean as they can, possibly even in ground piles, although the move holds some risk as the trade war could go on for a long time. The USDA confirmed the report and revealed that soybean inventories reached their highest level in 11 years on September 1. The Bunge CEO also echoed the view of other large food processors and warned that trade flows might be permanently altered. The Buenos Aires Grain Exchange, for example, predict that Argentina will quadruple its export of raw oilseed next year.

Meanwhile, the WTO has urged the US and China to resolve their trade issues, as it lowered its global trade growth estimate from 4.4% to 3.9% for 2018, and from 3.7% to 3% for 2019, due to the ongoing trade war. The US is reportedly blocking the appointment of new judges to fill vacancies at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), while the US ambassador previously described the Appellate Body as a rogue organisation. Of the seven posts at the DSB, three are currently vacant and a fourth vacancy will be created when a Mauritius judge completes his term at the end of the month, leaving the appellate tribunal with the minimum strength of just three judges and potentially crippling the trade body. A former WTO chief trade judge urged countries to unite against the US which he said was acting like a “bully.”

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

The CEO and CFO of Louis Dreyfus both resigned this week, while the chief strategy officer will become the new CEO. He recently was the head of the group’s Edesia Asset Management. Sources told the Financial Times that the departure was probably due to a disagreement over the investment plans of Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, whose stake in the company is expected to increase to 96.9%, from 80% currently, after buying shares from other family members. The new CEO reassured that the move was not a sign of an internal crisis, as he revealed that the group was seeing better financial results this year, partly thanks to the current trade volatility.

Similarly, Sucden announced that the current general manager will step down in January 2019, although he will still oversee some projects, and be replaced by the head of Sucden Americas.

Not much progress was made in international trade talks this week, as the EU and the US could not agree on agricultural tariffs. The EU previously committed to buying more US soybean, but US politicians now argue that a trade deal needs to account for all agricultural products. The proposal was quickly shot down by many in the EU who said that agriculture was never meant to be part of a deal. EU representatives added that the issue of food standards would have to be addressed first, such as whether to allow US chlorine-rinsed chickens or hormone-reared beef.

Little progress was made with China either, as the US imposed another series of duties without really looking to engage in negotiations with their Chinese counterparts. The head of Cargill warned that a protracted trade war could drastically change the landscape of US agriculture. He mentioned that the US would no longer be seen as a reliable trading partner, while the Chinese were unlikely to back down in order to protect their pride. The whole US soybean industry is at risk, he explained, as Chinese importers can switch to other protein sources.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace activists protested against Wilmar’s palm oil refinery in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The NGO accused Wilmar of breaking its 2013 commitment of ‘no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation’ (NDPE) after it was found to be buying palm oil from producers that have been linked to deforestation.

Indonesia’s president signed a 3-year temporary ban on new palm oil development, three years after the original ban was announced. Local administrations have been instructed to review permits and delay new ones, in part to reduce land rights conflicts between villagers and plantation owners.

Environmentalists welcomed the announcement, which comes just two months after India’s Solvent Extractors Association signed an agreement with the Indonesian Palm Oil Board and Solidaridad which recognised the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) as well as the Indian Palm Oil Sustainability (IPOS) Framework as legitimate sustainability frameworks for palm oil production and trade between Indonesia and India.

Over 70 companies in the UK, including Tesco, Nestle and Coca-Cola, have committed to reducing by half their food wastage “from farm to fork” by 2030 – a waste currently estimated to be close to 10 million mt every year. This is part of a voluntary government initiative asking the companies involved to publish data on wastage as well as action plans.

On a global level, Coca-Cola was also among the companies that committed last week to support the Ocean Plastics Charter, which aims to reduce plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

In California, the Governor gave the green light for the state’s first set of Plastic Pollution Reduction Bills, which include a plan to phase out non-recyclable food packaging.

Another Californian bill requires adopting a statewide microplastics strategy. Microplastics have become all the more concerning after a study found that aquatic insects, which include mosquitoes, carry microplastics which were ingested at the egg stage in water.

This week, the Swiss voted against proposals that could have given Switzerland the strictest food standards in Europe. The proposals were designed to promote ethical and sustainable food through measures such as state support for family farms and higher import tariffs for food. An estimated 1,000 family farms close each year in the country, many of which are traditional dairy farms. If voted, however, the proposals would have resulted in higher food prices.

While the Jury is still out on whether the Swiss event means that people are not willing to pay more for sustainable food, several NGOs have filed a lawsuit against the Pret A Manger restaurant chain in the US. The chain is accused of knowingly misleading customers into believing their food is “natural,” on the basis they will be willing to pay more for it, when in fact traces of the weedkiller glyphosate were found in some of their products.

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Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

A new study by Cambridge scientists and researchers from 17 organisations across the globe found that high-yield agriculture is the most sustainable method of farming, as it uses less land and causes less environmental damage in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, fertiliser and water use. An example is the European dairy sector, where organically produced milk causes one-third more soil erosion and takes up twice as much land than conventional dairy farming.

Competitive logistics, and especially freight, is another important component to efficient farming. Brazil, for one, is seeing a revival in farming with a 35% increase year on year in farm credit in the June-July period. However, analysts warn that the country’s agribusiness performance will depend in big part on its ability to maintain competitive freight – something which is threatened by the government’s minimum truck freight rates. The higher local freight costs have already led to a surge in the import of cereals from Paraguay where transport costs are much lower.

The escalating trade war between the US and China is now seen by many as a major concern and not just a small irritant. Analysts now predict that the dispute will slow the US GDP growth to just 2% by the end of 2019, compared to 3.1% for the current quarter, according to a Reuters poll. China has consistently targeted the agricultural sector, just as Iowa’s corn and soy farmers are about to start their harvest. The National Farmers Union estimates that corn, soy and wheat farmers lost USD 13 billion in June alone.

On the other hand, some producers are seeing benefits to the new trade flows, like the US garlic company Christopher Ranch who welcomed the 10% duty on Chinese garlic. And in an unusual twist, Brazil may import 500,000-1 million mt of soybean from the US this year, according to Anec, which represents Cargill, ADM and Louis Dreyfus. An adviser explained that Brazil’s soybean supply was tightening because of a surge in export demand following Chinese duties on US origins.

While the USDA said it was confident it would be able to regain market access once trade issues are resolved, Chinese industry representatives claim that they will be able to completely move away from purchasing US soybeans. The vice chairman of a China-based Wilmar subsidiary said the country would support the government amid escalating tensions, while experts noted that feed processors could easily half the amount of soybean used without affecting livestock growth.

In a bid to improve supply chain efficiency, Cargill has tied up with South America’s Agriness to launch a digital farm management platform, initially to boost pig harvest and then expand to other species like poultry and dairy. Agriness, which manages 2 million sows, will provide real-time data on key indicators such as the number of piglets/sow, weight gain, and production cost. Cargill’s vice-president believes the platform will ensure food safety, food security, sustainability and transparency.

Cargill is also expanding in Poland where it announced it had signed a deal to purchase Polish group Konspol’s feed manufacturing plant, five broiler farms and two processing centres along with the brand and customers and suppliers.

With the use of satellite technology, Nestle said it hopes to prevent deforestation in its palm oil plantations, especially in Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The company wants all its products to be deforestation-free by 2020 compared to 63% in 2017.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, the Supreme Court has appointed a forensic auditor to conduct a detailed inquiry into Nestle’s USD 49 million mineral water operations. The order came on a petition accusing the company of exploiting groundwater and selling water that is unfit for human consumption. The apex court noted that Nestle was paying a negligible tariff for extracting water while selling its product at high rates.

In the US, Starbucks has developed a six-pronged approach to make 10,000 out of its 28,000 stores greener by 2025. According to the strategy, which will be made public to encourage others to follow, the company plans to reduce energy use by 25%, use only renewable energy, reduce water usage by 30% and save food aggregating about 50 million meals/year. To reduce food wastage further up the supply chain, Rabobank is inviting startups to submit tech-based solutions for reducing food wastage in its Food Loss Challenge Asia.

Finally, Coca-Cola is reportedly looking into launching a functional wellness cannabis drinks. Coke is said to have held talks with Canada’s Aurora Cannabis. Its drinks became cocaine-free in 1929 when scientists found a way to remove all psychoactive ingredients from cocoa leaves.

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Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

A coalition of 60 US associations covering all layers of the economy, from Silicon Valley to oil producers, formed Americans for Free Trade to publicly campaign against the ongoing trade war and urge the administration to ease tariffs. Many in the industry did not believe that the dispute would go this far, with the President now threatening to tax virtually all Chinese imports. The groups  warn of layoffs as they face higher costs and smaller export markets.

In a similar vein, Cadbury has joined the list of companies preparing for a hard Brexit and is stocking up on raw materials, including sugar, wheat and cocoa. The UK’s imports will increase by GBP 38 billion (USD 49.37 billion) if companies stockpile three months worth of goods from the EU, according to estimates.

Cargill introduced a software in the Philippines to help the feed and animal industries transition to science-based digital nutrition models. The tool will first be aimed at poultry and swine businesses and will ensure higher margins, according to a company official.
The company has also started meeting startups as part of the CO2 Challenge it launched in June along with Rainmaking and DNV GL. The challenge aims to support technologies which will help reduce the emissions of cargo vessels by 10%. “The solutions are there – we just need to uncover and implement them,” Cargill said.
In the US, Cargill’s Sidney plant in Ohio launched a new USD 10 million line which cuts packaging material waste and uses completely recyclable plastic. This will help customers source sustainable materials.

In Ghana, Cargill said it will expand its direct sourcing programme Cocoa Promise to include four more districts. Under this service, farmers can deliver products to warehouses, effectively cutting out the middleman. This comes at a time when the Cocoa Board is trying to fight the Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease by replanting 40% of the country’s unproductive cocoa.

The Dacsa Bunge joint venture will build a USD 14 million plant to process corn in Ukraine which should start operating by the end of 2019, according to market sources. Almost 80% of the 100,000mt capacity plant is expected to be destined for exports. Also in Ukraine, the Saudi Agricultural & Livestock Investment Company (Salic) has almost finalised a deal to acquire Mriya Agro, which grows corn and barley among other crops. The takeover would make Salic one of Ukraine’s largest farming operations.

The US investment fund Castlelake is looking into picking up controlling stakes in up to five sugar and ethanol companies in Brazil, according to a source. This comes at a time when a lack of investment in the sector is causing it to shrink. Looking at the finances of 75 mills in the Centre South, Itau BBA bank found that 18 units were not making enough to sustain production. With even profitable mills not investing to expand, because of the poor return on capital, some say that cane production next year could drop by 100 million mt.

During a trip to Morocco this week, the head of Danone promised consumers a series of changes, including lower prices and a more transparent supply chain. This comes after months of a boycott by consumers who accused the company of setting unfair prices, among other things, causing a significant drop in sales. The CEO said the crisis was “unprecedented anywhere in the world”. As such, and although he did not know why the boycott specifically targeted Danone, the company decided it was better to find a solution instead of fighting it.

Similarly, Nestle spent USD 34 million to remove preservatives from two of its main milk brands in Brazil, in response to consumers’ demand for more natural products, adding that developing countries were quickly catching with global food trends.
In the US, the company’s USD 50 million frozen food research centre is paying off, as data showed that frozen food sales jumped by almost 6% in the first half of the year, compared to less than 2% growth over the past two years. Analysts say the revival of frozen food is due to companies like Nestle investing in nutritious and healthy meals, a change from the comfort food that frozen food used to be associated with.

The number of people going hungry around the world increased for the third year in the row in 2017, according to the UN’s latest report. The main drivers were climate change and conflicts, with Africa and South America the most affected. The report also noted that obesity rates now increased to cover one adult in eight. An FAO expert explained that nations were now shifting to offering more humanitarian aid without addressing underlying causes, and should instead focus on promoting transformative investments.

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Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

Although he admitted it was a “really bad tax”, the Argentine President announced that crop exports will now face a tax based on the value of the exchange rate, which will hopefully help generate some much needed revenues, unlock IMF funds and avert a crisis. Analysts noted that corn cultivation will drop as a result, as profitably will be down 50% and the crop has not been planted yet, unlike wheat.

South African farmers are also worrying about upcoming policies,  as growers’ body Agri SA and the Congress of South African Trade Unions expressed their opposition to the proposed amendment to the constitution which would allow land acquisitions without compensation. But the National African Farmers Union backed the nationalisation of some agricultural land. A parliamentary panel is reviewing the proposal and has received around 450,000 submissions.

The Coca-Cola Company will spend USD 5.1 billion to purchase the Costa Coffee chain, the world’s second largest coffee chain, making it the first attempt at running a retail chain for the 132-year-old soft-drink giant. Although coffee represented only USD 83 billion out of the USD 513 billion market for soft drinks in 2017, the sector is growing much faster and could help Coca-Cola diversify into healthier products. Coca-Cola is now in a position to upset competitors such as Starbuck or PepsiCo by opening Costa stores in the US, or launching a bottled coffee drink.

Cargill’s Carval fund is said to have purchased Abengoa Bionergia‘s Sao Luiz mill in Pirassununga and Sao Joao sugar mill in Sao Joao da Boa Vista for USD 80 million, according to sources. The fund will invest BRL 100 million (USD 24.34 million) in the two Sao Paulo mills, which have around BRL 1.5 billion (USD 365.1 million) in debt.

Nestle will introduce the South American goldenberry in some of its products, after it bought a 60% stake in the snack company Terrafertil. The fruit is relatively unknown outside of Latin America, but the Nestle Americas CEO explained that it will cater to consumers who increasingly look too organic products with high nutrient content.

In Spain, the number of pigs has increased by 9 million since 2013, bringing the total to around 50 million, or more than the human population of 46.5 million. The supply has grown as Spain is a particularly large consumer of pork, at around 21kg/year per person. Environmentalist warned of the impact of the growing pig population on the water supply and greenhouse gas emissions.

A French parliamentary committee decided last week that the voluntary approach to cutting the salt content in food has not worked, and legislators suggested that a proposal to enforce reductions could come as early as September. They suggested something similar to the sugar tax which would come into effect over a specified level of salt. The committee highlighted the case of the baguette, after bread makers failed to reach the target to limit salt content to 18g/kg 16 years after making the voluntary commitment.

Sulfoxaflor, one of the pesticides poised to replace neonicotinoids, is just as harmful to bee populations as neonicotinoids, according to a new study published in Nature. In February, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that bee colonies were suffering because of the widespread neonicotinoids use and the EU decided to impose a ban later in April, which was followed by a similar decision from Canada.

Global food waste could end up costing USD 1.2 trillion per year by 2030, according to a new report by the Boston Consulting Group. The report lists a series of ways in which the sector could limit waste and save up to USD 700 billion per year, through specific solutions best adapted to the production, processing, distribution, storage and retail segments. The main driver, however, remains a general lack of awareness, the reports concludes.

Lego’s effort to switch away from using petroleum-based plastics could still be years away, according to the company, who has set a target to use only plant-based sustainable products by 2030. Although the firm has spent about DKK 1 billion (USD 156 million) on research, it is struggling to reproduce the exact feel of each block, which has more or less remained unchanged since 1958. The firm’s CEO said he did not know how the move would impact profit margins or whether the higher cost would be passed on to consumers.

And in case you missed it, Lego pulled an amazing engineering feat last week by building a full-size Lego Bugatti Chiron, complete with a working engine.

This summary was produced by ECRUU

Commodity Conversations Weekly Press Summary

As the US-China trade war continues to escalate, the US farm sector is increasingly worried that global trade patterns are dramatically evolving in a way that will not be reversible in the short term. Cost is only one factor behind the trade landscape, as relationships and reliability also play a major role, according to the Farmers for Free Trade group. The uncertainty around US policy is allowing competitors from Brazil, Ukraine, or Argentina, to dismantle some of long term partnership the US industry spent years building, they added.

In Europe, farmers are focusing on the bad weather, as the UK is set to witness a 5% increase in food prices because of damaged crops – this would translate to an increase of USD 8 per month for each household. The farm price of vegetables and dairy has already shot up, with meat and wheat expected to follow suit. Similarly, hailstorms in France have destroyed a significant amount of wine.

On the other hand, global food prices are likely to be stable over the next decade due to the tepid growth in demand, according to a report by the UN and OECD. Agribusinesses will take a hit, the report warns, as Chinese food consumption decreases because of an ageing population and a contracting economy. While regions like India and Africa will provide the volumes, the US and other developed markets will look for quality. Africa will help balance the consumption of processed foods and sugar as developed nations move towards healthier options.

Meanwhile, Cargill is trialling genetically-modified (GM) canola in Montana which it hopes will dramatically change the salmon and fish protein industry. Designed to yield more oil rich omega-3 fatty acid, this GM canola could replace the wild fish which is fed to salmon farms amid a falling ocean population. This is part of the group’s efforts to become the leader in aquaculture feed, according to a company official who said: “This is very much the new Cargill.”

In Brazil, Cargill announced a plan to build a USD 150 million plant to manufacture a food texturizer called HM pectin made from citrus fruit. The pectin, which is used in things like juices and jams, would add a high-margin product to the company’s portfolio at a time of low crop prices. Cargill is also reportedly looking at buying two struggling grains processing plants.

Bunge, the Santander Bank and The Nature Conservancy got together to design a program which gives loans to soybean farmers who commit not to clear forest or native vegetation in the Brazilian Cerrado. Most of the 9.6 million ha of land which came under soybean cultivation in the 2001-17 period in the Cerrado was previously native. Bunge also helped launch last year which to help grow soybean in a sustainable way.

Olam is planning to increase its cocoa beans output in Ghana as well as to go further downstream into tertiary processing. Olam has become the country’s third biggest buyer of cocoa beans, having purchased 22% of the whole production in 2016/17.

Going from cocoa to coffee, Nestle and Starbucks have signed a USD 7.15 billion licensing deal which allows Nestle to sell Starbucks products all over the world. Both companies will work together and use their complementary advantages – coffee retailing on one side and single-serve home-based coffee machines on the other – to strengthen their position in the coffee market.

In Japan, meanwhile, Nestle is planning to turn its nutritional drinks and supplements segment into – literally – a billion dollar business after it witnessed the growing popularity of its subscription-based nutrition program. The program uses artificial intelligence to analyse people’s meals, DNA and blood sample to work out which supplements they need. Both moves are part of the company’s intention to move towards healthier products.

In Malaysia, the research centre Crops for the Future (CFF) has been promoting some of the 7,000 indigenous crops, such as spindly moringa trees, bambara groundnuts and the kedondong berry, as alternatives to wheat, maize, rice and soybean which provide two-thirds of the world’s food supply. The company is trying to change the approach towards food by diversifying diets while enabling farmers to measure crops in terms of nutrition rather than yield.

Wired’s cover story this week dives into how Maersk, who controls one-fifth of the world’s shipping capacity, was completely paralysed by a Russian-made virus originally made to destabilise Ukraine in June 2017. The virus ended up costing Maersk USD 300 million, and was only fixed thanks to a power cut in Ghana which shielded a single computer from the infection.

This summary was produced by ECRUU