Place innovation at the core of supply chain management, says Mars

EXCLUSIVE: Innovation across every level of business is vital to improve the technology and partnerships necessary to enhance sustainable supply chain management, according to Mars Incorporated's global sustainability director.

Speaking at the edie Sustainable Supply Chain Conference in London yesterday, Kate Wylie discussed Mars’ Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming scheme which seeks to improve farming and production methods, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and improve the living standards of local communities.

Wylie stressed that the nutritional giant’s increased sustainable sourcing at scale across rural areas in Africa, Asia and South America has only been made possible through investment in innovative scientific research and other programmes.

“We need innovation now at all different levels,” Wylie said. “We need agricultural science to understand what is the right technology to use on the ground. We need innovation in getting the expertise and training to these hundreds of thousands of farmers, many of whom live in very rural areas. We need to get information out to markets and technology. We need innovation in terms of how to reorganise your organisation, in how to measure success, and incentivise both employees and suppliers.

“And you need innovation to secure partnerships to get the funding for the mechanisms required.  You need innovative models to do this.” 

‘Singing from the same hymn sheet’

Last year, Mars and Danone announced their intentions to invest €50m each into the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming Scheme aimed at increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers to prioritise key crops including cocoa, sugar and palm oil across 40 projects worldwide.

The partnership reflects an increasing willingness from global food and beverage firms to drive positive change in sustainable sourcing, with both Nestle and Mondelez recently displaying strong commitments to supply chain transparency. The social and economic benefits have been tangible – in the case of Mondelez, more than 76,000 farmers have seen a significant increase in their income and cocoa yield as result of a global sustainable sourcing programme.

Along with a host of other major companies, Mars has committed to purchasing 100% of its several key raw materials through independent certification programmes that share these same goals, such as the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International.

According to Wylie, these ethical initiatives have the potential to improve sustainability efforts, reduce costs and help thousands of farmers meet social and environmental standards.

Wylie believes that cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaboration is essential to ensuring that companies build sustainable supply chains at scale, insisting that every component of a complex supply chain structure must be “singing from the same hymn sheet” to ensure a successful outcome.

“The more we can work together the more we can partner in a trusted way and share what works and what doesn’t work too. Efficiency in your partnership means that you can reduce your costs, which means that you can do more. You need to work with the right people. They need to have the right mentality as you’ve all got to have the same vision.

“Projects are complicated,” she added. “You’ve got companies, their suppliers, the NGOs or the programme implementers, local government and farmers, so there’s a lot of people involved. You need to make sure right from the start that everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet and have aligned objectives.

“This takes patience at first but if you do it right it’s much more successful and impactful than doing it on your own. There needs to be a degree of trust, are you all going to work together to build sustainable supply chains to scale.” 

George Ogleby

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