MIA: establishing a unique impact in the chocolate supply chain
Sustainability and supply chain ethics are often the centre of discussion in the chocolate industry, especially when it comes to cocoa sourcing. Recently, large brand owners like Mondelēz International and national UK retailers such as Sainsbury’s have created proprietary systems to take a more customised approach to their supply chain partners.
So, how can brands measure and speak about their impact beyond the established fair-trade systems? Can brands take a customised approach to make a positive impact on supplier communities? How can these unique stories be communicated to consumers?
At the 2019 London Chocolate Forum, I used MIA as a case study to explain our mission to create positive impact through a holistic approach to chocolate and supply partners in Africa. We are exploring how this higher purpose impacted brand values, our Made-In-Africa production model, pack design and our relationships with market partners (importers / distributors, retailers, consumers). We also look at how we can be measuring the impact activities and craft clear messages that speak to consumers.
Impact initiatives most often fall under one of two categories: environment or social. Environmental impact can be related to cultivation of raw ingredients, the packaging we use or the way a product is transported. Some current hot topics are palm oil production, the use of plastics, recycled packaging and sulphur content of maritime fuel.
Social issues often revolve around fair pay, child labour and women’s rights, but there are many more issues that need to be addressed if we are to create a better world, especially in developing countries where government programmes are weakest, and people are most vulnerable to exploitation.
Whether you work with a food brand or another business, the answer to the question ‘Where can we create positive impact?’ is within your organisation. Nobody knows your business like you do and no one is better positioned to figure out what can be done to create improvements in the supply chain or by using the business as a vehicle to champion an important cause.
There are inevitably other businesses that have good impact programmes that can provide ideas. These businesses don’t necessarily have to be in your field of work, but it always helps to have a few references that are close to home.
In creating the MIA, we looked at different models that helped us identify the issues we wanted to address with a social impact food brand. We researched food brands Equal Exchange, Alter Eco and Ethiquable and studied two leading impact organisations: Fair Trade and the Whole Planet Foundation.
Is the business the cause or does the business support a cause?
Crucial to creating an impact programme is determining how it will be incorporated into your business. We make a simple distinction: the impact programme is part of the business itself or, the business is used to support an impact programme:
The Business is the Cause – in this case, the very way the business is set up creates the impact. The impact is realised by doing business rather than creating a separate programme. This is easiest to do at the outset, but it does not necessarily have to involve a full-scale change to an existing business.
An existing business can make a positive impact by changing how some products / ingredients are sourced – organic, fair trade, local, etc – or the way some part of the business operates (fuel-efficient transport, water-saving taps, etc)?
The Business Supports a Cause – Even if a business does not change the way it operates, the business platform can be used to raise funds for a cause that is important to the industry, employees or customers. For example, a food brand that is not able to change an environmentally destructive ingredient like soy can raise funds for reforestation projects.
At MIA, we mixed the two approaches above. We had founding members with significant experience in the social development sector, chocolate and African food supply chains, so we conducted research on farmer livelihoods, food manufacturing and the distribution of wealth from value-added production. What we found gave us the conviction that MIA must be the cause.
Before finalising an impact programme, it’s important to be sure you can measure the results, so you can communicate them to your customers and suppliers. For MIA, we chose a combination of results to measure:
- Indicators used in the market for comparable projects
- Indicators specific to our impact programme and good for internal evaluation
- Indicators that are easy for consumers and other audiences to understand
As examples, we measure the following results for the different aspects of our supply chain in Africa:
- Global: We have indicators that apply to all activities. These are livelihood days and full-time jobs.
- Specific to Cocoa Sourcing: Kilos of cocoa purchased, hectares of trees protected, and CO2 sequestered.
- Specific to Chocolate Making: Kilos of cocoa purchased, and chocolate produced.
- Specific to ‘1 for Change’ Programme: Project-specific indicators.
The goal we have in measuring our impact is twofold. One objective is to clearly communicate the impact to our audiences. The other is to show how our impact evolves over time. In order to ensure the latter objective, it’s important to have some global measurements that can apply to different impact activities. In this way, you can group the results of different initiatives to show the overall result.
At MIA, we’re convinced that supporting a good cause is a way of doing business that can create positive change while engaging consumers and creating long-term brand loyalty. Ultimately, the extra effort to do good for others is rewarded by partners and customers who support the cause to increase the positive impact, creating a virtuous circle!