The Emergence of Climate-Neutral Fresh Produce in Europe

Nic Jooste, European Market

Originally printed in the October 2023 issue of Produce Business.

Europe’s fresh produce market is undergoing a remarkable transformation with the emergence of climate-neutral certified products. This shift is driven by increasing consumer awareness of climate change and the demand for eco-friendly choices. There are a number of companies that are leading the way in Europe, such as the Port International (bananas); Jaguar, The Fresh Company (oranges); and Del Monte (pineapples).

With escalating public awareness surrounding climate change, environmentally conscious consumers seek products that hold climate-neutral certifications. This aligns their consumption patterns with their values.

But there is more to this development, especially since the European Union has introduced stringent environmental regulations aimed at combating climate change. To comply with regulatory standards, companies are now increasingly embracing processes, procedures and even certification programs to be able to demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability.

Also, from a competitive perspective, recognizing carbon neutrality as a key differentiating factor makes sense. Companies like Port, Jaguar and Del Monte are leveraging their climate-neutral products to gain a competitive advantage. By offering such certified fresh produce, these companies distinguish themselves as industry leaders in environmental and ethical sustainability.

Reaching climate-neutral status requires intensive work that is split into three components. First, a company must determine primary data for accurate calculations along the value chain. Instead of using secondary data available from external sources, the most transparent way of doing this is to collect your own data from your own suppliers and farms, all the way from seed to the end consumer (peel disposal). In this way, a company knows exactly where it stands in terms of its emission footprint.

Second, concrete reductions to offset carbon emissions must be implemented. With a clear carbon footprint, a company can see where most of its emissions take place. With this in hand, measures through which to offset (decrease) the carbon emissions can be designed and implemented. Focusing on climate-friendly projects in collaboration with growers and supply chain partners can speed up the process.

Finally, compensation projects to fast-track neutrality can be implemented, such as (for instance) investing in a carbon-offsetting project in agroforestry.

Fresh produce with a climate-neutral certification is regarded as a premium offering.

There are many ways in which a fresh produce trading company can work toward climate neutrality. Immediate benefit can be added by working with supply chain partners to develop intelligent logistics solutions, such as direct loadings from source to final destination. Solar power installations can be installed at distribution centers and warehouses. Packaging suppliers can increase the use of climate-friendly alternatives.

From a grower perspective, the options are even greater. The apple producers of South Tyrol in Austria can be used as an example. Their commitment to reducing their ecological footprint lays the foundation for a remarkable positioning in the fresh produce markets. They have collectively embraced Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques that involve the strategic combination of crop rotation, natural predators, and targeted application of pesticides, only when necessary.

Extensive energy-saving technologies and renewable energy sources have enabled them to radically minimize their carbon footprint. Innovative systems to optimize water and energy usage promote resource efficiency.

Preserving biodiversity for sustainable agriculture has been at the core of South Tyrol’s efforts for many years. Orchards are not only cultivated for their productive value, but also as habitats for diverse flora and fauna.

Producers collaborate with local waste management systems to ensure responsible disposal and recycling of agricultural waste, including apple remains from processing operations. By implementing these comprehensive practices, the apple producers of South Tyrol are minimizing their environmental footprint and creating an enviable position among retailers.

The climate-neutral trend is not limited to Europe. Research conducted in Asia (in particular China, as one of the largest consumer markets in the world) presents some noteworthy findings indicating how the retail market perceives this phenomenon. Asian consumers are displaying an ever-increasing awareness of environmental issues, particularly as concerns heighten over air pollution and food safety have sparked a growing demand for organic and sustainable produce. Climate-neutral certified products effectively address these concerns.

In addition, imported goods often enjoy a perception of higher quality, safety, and reliability among consumers. Fresh produce with a climate-neutral certification is regarded as a premium offering. Capitalizing on this perception, retailers are effectively marketing such items as symbols of excellence.

Last, but definitely not least, Asian retailers are keen observers of international trends. As climate-neutral certifications gain prominence in Europe, high-end Asian retailers will, in all probability, be inclined to adopt similar practices.

Does involvement in climate-neutral initiatives require commitment and extra work? Definitely! Is it worth it? Absolutely!

Nic Jooste is an independent adviser on sustainability in fresh produce. He is based in The Netherlands.