Wessanen shows how it has become a serious player in the European sustainability food market

Fast growing Wessanen pulls no punches in its focus on sustainable food consumption for its portfolio of organic and vegetarian brands in the company’s latest integrated annual and sustainability report.

Unlike many food companies which tend to focus on sustainability issues more connected with processing and supply chain sustainability achievements, Wessanen shapes its core sustainability message around sustainable consumption – not surprising as 96% of its products are vegetarian and 74% are labelled organic. For example, its report mentions in a number of places the sustainability credentials of some of its brands in comparison to the (un)sustainability of meat eating.

And its appears to be paying off as the company reports some of its core brands achieved double-digit growth in 2016 and overall the total business grew 9% and achieved an €41.2 operating profit (an increase of 19% on the previous year) on revenues of €570 million. Through acquisitions and organic growth Wessanen, based in the Netherlands, says it has now established itself “as a player” in the sustainability food market in Europe.

A ‘food revolution’ underway

Writing in company’s report, published in May, Wessanen CEO Christophe Barnouin says: “A food revolution is underway and we are playing a leading role in it. Our mission of providing healthier food for healthier people and a healthier planet has never been more relevant than it is today as a growing number of consumers around Europe are trying to find better and more sustainable ways to eat and drink. We see this reflected in a continued strong growth in the market for organic and sustainable food.”

With its focus on consumption this does not mean the company neglects its production and operations sustainability and its report provides evidence on how the company is reducing its environmental footprint, waste, developing its people, partnerships with suppliers, and managing sustainability of its raw materials and commodity supply chains.

But the main focus is on how its brands are driving vegetarian nutrition through the products the company offers. Here the company says its focus is on the production of organic, vegetarian, fair trade and nutritionally positive food.

Expanding brand portfolio

Its brands have a strong presence in a number of categories, in particular vegetarian meals, dairy alternatives, snacks (such as biscuits and bars), breakfast cereals, bread and biscuit alternatives, and hot drinks. The company says its brands aim to be number 1 or 2 in any market or category in which they operate. The one under-performing region for the company last year was in Germany and Wessanen says it has plans in place to address this.

Over the reporting year Wessanen added further long-established brands throughout Europe into its portfolio; these were Piramide organic tea in the Netherlands; Biogran, the Spanish leader in organic food; Destination organic tea and coffee in France; Mrs Crimble’s gluten-free sweet snacks in the UK. These join other brands in the company’s portfolio including Clipper teas and beverages in the UK; Bonterre, France’s first-ever organic brand founded 53 years ago; Tartex launched in Germany in 1946; Whole Earth the peanut butter leader in the UK among a number of others.

The company operates eight production facilities in five countries (Spain, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy).

The report describes the company’s strategy as having four main pillars, namely:

  • Growing core brands and categories
  • Making selective acquisitions
  • Upgrading operations, and
  • Building a green, attractive and efficient company.

Wessanen’s sustainability strategy is the responsibility of its Executive Board, while the company’s Organic Expertise Center is in charge of its implementation. The Supervisory Board’s Nutrition, Food Safety and Sustainability Committee supports and advises the Executive Board to ensure its nutritional policies are relevant and scientifically supported and to ensure Wessanen operates in a sustainable way.

Wessanen is operating in a buoyant market

The company says all its employees (the company employed 993 people in 2016) across all roles and geographies have personal targets which are aligned with Wessanen’s strategic priorities. In 2013 the company introduced a Product Quality Charter for its brands which sets out policies and guidelines on food safety, nutrition and sustainability.

The company paints a buoyant picture for its future in food sustainability markets. It notes that the organic market has doubled since 2006 and is forecast to double again over the next 10 years.

Wessanen defines healthy and sustainable food as those foods and drinks covered by a certificate such as those relating to animal welfare, organic, fair trade, the environment and conservation, and or fish farming and wild catch. Using this definition the company estimate sustainable food accounts for 6%-7% of the total European food market and notes there are currently 7.8 million vegetarians in Europe.

As the report states: “We want to increase people’s awareness of healthy and sustainable food, help them change habits and strengthen their relationship with our brands.”