By Sophie Persey, Markets Transformation Manager, UK & Ireland, Rainforest Alliance
For most people in the UK, the phrase ‘Every Little Helps’ is synonymous with Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer. But how many people have stopped to think about what this actually means?
Recently, at a small event in a community centre in London, Dave Lewis, the CEO of Tesco, launched their new ‘Little Helps Plan’ to an audience of key suppliers, partners, government and non-governmental organizations. This plan outlines the work Tesco is doing to put their new core value of ‘Every Little Help makes a Big Difference’ into action to serve Britain’s shoppers with sustainable, affordable and healthy products, whilst also looking after their employees and local communities. The low-key nature of the event, which had no media presence, was in tune with Tesco’s relatively shy approach to talking about their sustainability work to date. Yet the presence of an impressive number of Tesco’s leadership team for the entirety of the event sent a clear message that it marked a significant milestone in Tesco’s journey after a challenging few years for the business.
The importance of working in partnership was a core theme of the event, demonstrated by the inclusion of a panel discussion on this topic, which Nigel Sizer, President of the Rainforest Alliance, was invited to participate in. The Rainforest Alliance has worked with Tesco for nearly a decade on a wide range of crops (bananas, cocoa, tea, coffee, pineapples and coconuts), and Nigel had plenty of insights to share from the Rainforest Alliance about the benefits and challenges of working with Tesco.
The huge reach and leverage of Tesco, which has about one quarter of market share in the UK, is a big advantage of the partnership for Rainforest Alliance. What better place to educate consumers that their purchasing decisions can have a big impact on people and the planet than the shelves of stores that attract 50 million shopping trips every week? Nigel, who was born in the UK, admitted that even his mum only understands what he does because of the green frog sticker on the bananas she buys in Tesco! Perhaps even more powerful is Tesco’s ability to catalyse widespread improvements in farming practices in their supply chain and beyond. Not only can they influence the practices of the thousands of farmers and processors which produce the 10 million tonnes of food they sell every year, but commitments made by Tesco can also have a ripple effect throughout the industry. For example, Tesco’s commitment to source all their bananas in the UK and Ireland from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that some 60% of the bananas sold in UK supermarkets are now Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Tesco CEO Dave told us that the company wants ‘spiky’ partners who are honest about what they want to achieve and challenge Tesco to do more. In this spirit, Nigel challenged Tesco to be more vocal about their sustainability commitments and targets – when a company like Tesco states a position on a topic it sends a massive signal to the industry. We also want Tesco to continue to challenge the Rainforest Alliance to make our standards and systems more efficient and robust. A good example of this is the introduction of a ‘mass balance’ sourcing option for Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa, which has driven increased demand and greater incentive for cocoa farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
The passion and commitment of the Tesco team, as well as the work they have done to date, is clear and impressive, and the entire Rainforest Alliance team is excited to broaden and deepen our partnership over the coming years.