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50 years of sustainability

As the Kerry Group celebrates its 50th birthday, we talk to Juan Aguirano, Head of Sustainability, about how the group is leading in sustainable nutrition

Article appeared in issue 4, 2022

It started in 1972, as a small dairy company in the southwest of Ireland, but these days the Kerry Group is a leading global taste and nutrition company, employing more than 26,000 people around the world. Headquartered in Tralee, Co.Kerry, with a €100 million global technology and innovation centre in Naas, Co. Kildare, the company now supplies over 18,000 foods, food ingredients and flavour products to customers in more than 140 countries.

Increasingly, these products are produced in a sustainable fashion, according to Juan Aguirano, Head of Sustainability at Kerry. “Sustainability underpins everything we do at Kerry and all of our of key strategic growth pillars,” he says. “What’s more, it’s in our DNA because we started as a small rural dairy co-op and it’s part of our heritage,” he says. “Now, more than ever, we’re working with customers on sustainable nutrition and on environmental and social impacts.”

Given its influence and reach across the world, the Kerry Group believes it has a responsibility to attempt to negate the negative impacts of climate change, the accelerating loss of biodiversity, and widening social and economic inequalities, both for current and future generations. “Every organisation has the opportunity to make improvements, incremental or otherwise, whether that be product by product, country by country, or customer by customer,” says Juan. “There's no magic wand that can be used. What’s important is the desire to do better, and having supportive leadership to deliver on these commitments.”

Sustainable Nutrition

To this end, the company is aiming to become a world leader in sustainable nutrition. “Sustainable nutrition refers to our ability to provide positive and balanced nutrition solutions that help maintain good health, while protecting people and the planet.”

For example, the group recently worked with a company that wanted to extend its beer range in the low and no alcohol categories, while also improving its efficiencies and yields. “We used our brewing ingredients and applications expertise, combined with our enzymes and process technology know-how, to create a range of products with low alcohol and lower calories,” explains Juan. “This new beer had the same authentic taste but was made with an improved process. It’s better for the planet as carbon emissions in production are reduced by up to 41%. There's also a $2 per hectoliter saving, with reduced waste, as well as less energy and water usage.”

Another example is chicken. The Kerry Group provides coatings and taste technology for its customers that produce chicken nuggets. It takes back the frame of the chicken, however, and transforms it into stock for soup that can be sold to consumers for use in other foods. “We then use the rest of the chicken frames and convert them into fertiliser, which ultimately can be used to nourish chickens through their feed,” adds Juan.

Consumer Demand

Initiatives such as this not only have a positive effect on the environment, they’re also economically beneficial to the company, as consumers are increasingly conscious of the link between diet, health, and the environment, and are seeking out products and brands that make a positive impact on both their health and the world around them. According to research conducted by the Kerry Group, 44% of consumers are willing to pay extra for food and beverage products that help to solve the problem of food waste.

Achievements

In the past 10 years, the group has already reduced carbon emissions in its operations by almost 30%, and it’s aiming to be net zero before 2050. This is important given that the food and beverage industry is responsible for over 25% of greenhouse gases.

Another issue is food security and the fact that there is huge disparity in the availability of food in different parts of the world. “There are two billion people who are either overweight or obese,” adds Juan. “Add to that, 700 million people that go to bed undernourished. We need all stakeholders to be committed to overcoming hunger and malnutrition.”

Food Waste

Food waste is also worrying, given that 30% of food around the world is wasted. If, as a society, we could reverse the trend of food waste, there would be more than enough food to feed the world. “Consumers are waking up to these facts and it’s a situation that simply cannot continue,” says Juan. The acquisition of Niacet, a global leader in preservation, is an attempt to tackle the problem. Bakery products is the highest volume category of food waste globally. In 2021, after Niacet was purchased by Kerry, the shelf life of approximately 34.5 billion loaves of bread was extended by up to 75%, therefore eliminating a huge amount of food waste.

Sustainability Goals

And while much has been done so far, there is still more to do. In 2020, Kerry launched a framework to track its progress in reaching two billion people with sustainable nutrition solutions, assessing its entire portfolio against a range of nutritional criteria. “We currently reach one billion people with positive and balanced nutrition,” explains Juan. “In late 2021, we announced accelerated sustainability targets to align with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature increases by 1.5 degrees Celsius.” The company has since increased its targets for scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions reduction from 33% to 55% by 2030. It also has a strategy for 2030, called Beyond the Horizon, which it sees as an opportunity to develop a more balanced food system, one that creates prosperity while protecting people and the planet.

Sustainability in Ireland

In Ireland, the Kerry Group is working with over 3,000 dairy farmers, providing financial and technical support to help them transition to more sustainable farming practices. “Feeding a growing population while agricultural practices and dairy production are under environmental scrutiny is a huge challenge,” says Juan. “We recognise that out farmer suppliers need support. The potential incentive for the average milk supplier is up to €2,000 per herd.”

In general, the company is proud of its sustainable achievements so far. “Given our scale, reach and ability to impact on consumer health and wellbeing, we’re committed to creating a future of sustainable nutrition, providing positive and balanced nutrition solutions that help maintain good health, while protecting people and the planet,” says Juan. “Our growing and increasingly urbanised global population has high expectations regarding the broader impacts of food. However, it also demands high standards in terms of taste, convenience, and value.

“As the leading global expert in taste and nutrition, Kerry creates a crucial link between the capabilities of manufacturers and the expectations of consumers,” he adds. “We’re firmly at the forefront of technological innovation within the food and beverage industry - a critical foundation for building a more sustainable future food system.”