Chingford Fruit (CFL) is now our largest single client and they have been able to “plug and play” our strengths and capabilities in a very exciting way.
CFL is a large supplier to the Sainsbury’s retail chain (JS) in the UK. They were under pressure from JS to help them deliver products that were more “sustainable”. As a result they approached Blue North for assistance.
We have developed a sustainability strategy for them that is build on two key insights:
The first is that, in a agricultural supply chain, most of the sustainability “big hitters” occur at the primary-production or farm level of the supply chain. Whether it is working conditions on farm, ethical trade, community impacts, agro-chemicals use, soil health, water, energy-use, biodiversity impacts, economic viability etc etc…the biggest impacts are felt and greatest influences exerted at farm-level. Any genuine sustainability strategy in agricultural supply chains has to, must, have a significant focus on what goes on at farm-level and be aimed at reducing negative social and environmental impacts and enhance the positive impacts that occur at farm-level. But in dealing with this reality the strategy has to accept that each farm and farmer (and there are typically many of them that make up the farm base of a supply-chain) is an individual business and person. As such, efforts to achieve the required change have to be focused on achieving this at the individual level – this takes a “bottom up” approach and process that secures the buy-in, input and commitment of the individual.
The second important insight is that farms are connected to end-consumers via “supply-chains”, and how effectively and efficiently product “flows” across the chain through to the end-consumer is the single biggest driver of economic performance (for the chain and for each party within it): The more blockages there are, the longer products “stands”, the more breaks there are in supply etc…the poorer the flow, the higher the costs, the lower the income and the poorer the financial performance. As a result, any efforts to improve economic performance must examine how well product is “flowing”, and this, in turn, requires an examination of the shared rules and operating practices that govern flow (for example, how frequently is product ordered, what are the minimum batch sizes, what are the order lead times etc). Changing the rules that govern supply-chain flow is therefore the focus of improving the supply-chains performance
These two combined – the efforts to mitigate negative social and environmental impacts at farm level through a bottom-up approach, and the improvement of economic performance across the chain by challenging and changing the operating rules that govern flow – therefore become the pillars of the agri-supply-chain sustainability strategy – and this is what we have done with CFL.
Firstly: The strategy has a huge farm-level/ bottom-up focus: CFL’s suppliers and farmers from across their global supply-base are members of “Working groups” where they go through facilitated workshops to identify the key sustainability risks to their farming, to prioritize those risks and to develop their responses to these risks. A top-down approach that prescribes is avoided at all costs.
Secondly: We are doing a large scale supply-chain project where JS, CFL and one of their large South African apple suppliers is sharing daily stock information which is all going into a data base system that allows us to examine what and how much stock is being held where and for how long. In essence we are building a picture for all the participants of what is the real impact of their current operating practices. We will then take this “current reality” and compare it to a simulation of what all these parameters could have looked like with rules designed to improve flow. By so doing, our aim is to clearly make the case for a shift to these new and better operating rules.