Behind the scenes of the first award for retail initiatives that mainstream sustainable food

Behind the scenes of the first award for retail initiatives that mainstream sustainable food

18/02/2020
Jelle Goossens
Jelle Goossens
Communications officer
016/74.50.33 | 0485/08.29.60

On 23 January 2020, Rikolto in Belgium awarded the ‘I’m more than my receipt’-Award to Colruyt, a major retailer in Belgium. The award wants to highlight and reward credible sustainability initiatives of Belgian retailers that make sustainable food the new normal for every consumer. In this article we showcase the results and process behind this award.

Background: the “I’m more than my receipt” campaign

I’m more than my receipt (in Dutch: Ik ben meer dan mijn kassaticket) is a movement of citizens who advocate for sustainable food to become the default option in their supermarket. Yet they also acknowledge that this message might not speak from their receipt, because in practice, it’s hard to turn your ideals into purchases while walking down the supermarket isles.

That’s why we want to push supermarkets towards bolder action to mainstream sustainability, so it becomes easy and accessible for everyone – even if you lack the knowledge, money or time to get involved in it.

The campaign is a partnership of Rikolto and 6 other consumer organisations, representing more than 1 million Belgian consumers.

Step 1: Co-creating an admission document with an expert panel

What is a “credible” sustainability initiative? How do we distinguish greenwashing from structural efforts with a long-term vision that generate true impact? And how do we define 'impact'?

We consulted a diverse panel, consisting of experts in life cycle analyses, retail, health, farming, marketing, economics and value chain development. Most of these experts also agreed to take a seat in our jury (step 3). The panel defined the following criteria:

  1. Long-term impact: Is there a commitment in time? Is a growth trajectory in place? Does the initiative have a wide reach?
  2. Impact on the 3 dimensions of sustainability: Economical (improving producers income, improving price stability and transparency,…); Social (improving consumer health, working conditions, animal wellbeing, inclusion of vulnerable groups,…); Ecological (reducing GHG emissions, ecological footprint, water footprint, land usage, improving biodiversity);
  3. User friendliness: does the initiative make it easier for the consumer to buy sustainably? In other words: it should not require more time, mental effort or money from the consumer’s side.
  4. Integration in company practices: Does the initiative involve multiple departments (procurement, marketing, shopkeepers, …) ?
  5. Involvement of other chain actors (suppliers, customers, …): Are suppliers involved in determining new standards and practices? How are customers involved (e.g. test panels, communication campaigns, shareholdership,…)?
  6. Leadership: Is the company showing leadership with the initiative, for example by taking a stand on a certain issue and showing the way for the whole sector? Is the company taking a risk in doing so? How innovative is the initiative compared to initiatives of the company’s peers?

Step 2: Inviting the supermarkets to participate

With our concept & criteria document in place, we contacted the five national retailers in Belgium at the beginning of September 2019: Colruyt Group, Delhaize, Carrefour, Aldi and Lidl. We agreed that each retail group could file 3 initiatives for evaluation by the jury.

We provided the retailers with a structured template to present the initiative. The template forced them to argue on each criterion why the initiative is “award worthy”. It was nice to see how this process triggered internal debate within these companies on which of their initiatives was already generating significant impact.

By the beginning of October, we received 11 submissions from the 5 retailers who have a national presence in Belgium.

List of all submissions:

  • Aldi - Transparency Code: A platform that increases transparency in their meat value chain, by offering customers the option to scan a QR-code to retrieve every detail.
  • Aldi – Sustainable procurement: An effort to raise the sustainability threshold for a number of product categories with clearly defined targets. For example: 100% RSPO-certified palm oil by 2016; 100% Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade certified flowers and plants by 2019, …
  • Bio-Planet – Your bill is right: The organic store concept of Colruyt Group lowered prices of 500 common products to make organic products more accessible.
  • Carrefour – Seasonal vegetables challenge: During the summer of 2019, Carrefour challenged its customers to consume more seasonal products. Through gamification, customers acquired bonus points for buying seasonal vegetables and were inspired through a variety of recipes.
  • Colruyt Laagste Prijzen (lowest prices) – Dinner for 1, 2, 3 euro: a collaboration between supermarket Colruyt and several social organisations to make healthy and sustainable food accessible for everyone, with a focus on vulnerable families. Registered families receive a biweekly recipe booklet for which the cost of the ingredients is topped at 1, 2 or 3 euro per person.
  • Colruyt Group – Towards a stable and transparent price for milk: To tackle the fluctuations of the world market price of milk, which brings a lot of uncertainty for dairy farmers, Colruyt Group will introduce a new pricing mechanism for their Boni private label milk. In collaboration with 330 dairy farmers, they will guarantee a stable price over 5 years for a fixed volume.
  • Delhaize – Delicata: A companywide effort to make all of Delhaize’s private label chocolate sustainable according to the Tony’s Chocolonely standards by establishing direct links with farmer cooperatives.
  • Delhaize – Latitude 28: The single origin private label coffee of Delhaize for which they collaborate directly with farmers to cope with climate change and reduce CO2-emissions throughout the value chain.
  • Delhaize – The Lions Footprint: An ambitious, companywide sustainability programme to reduce Delhaize’s ecological footprint by becoming plastic neutral, reducing food waste and becoming CO2-neutral by 2021.
  • Lidl - No choice, good choice: A step by step, long-term effort to improve the sustainability of complete product categories according to established standards. Through choice editing, Lidl removes the ‘bad options’ and relieves its customers from the stress of making the right choice.
  • Lidl – Way to go: A “super fairtrade chocolate bar” for which Lidl collaborates with all value chain partners, including 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana. The cooperative to which they belong receives direct investments from Lidl to attain living incomes for cocoa farmers through better prices, diversification and professionalisation.

Step 3: The jury evaluation

Now it was time for our jury to get into action. For our jury members, we could largely rely on the experts that were involved in the creation of the admission document (step 1). The evaluation and nomination process consisted of three steps.

First, we sent the documents of all initiatives to each jury member individually, accompanied by a scoring table, covering the criteria of the admission document.

Members of the jury:

Bernard Buntinx – Business developer at Fairtrade Belgium

Inge Ghijs – Journalist at De Standaard

Christophe Sancy – Editor in chief at Gondola (magazine for retail and food professionals)

Loes Neven – senior staff member healthy food at the Flemish Institute for Healthy Living (Vlaams Instituut Gezond Leven).

Margot Cooreman-Algoed – Assistent at the Sustainable System Engineering (STEN) research group of the Bio Engineering facultiy of the University of Ghent (specialized in Life-cycle assessment).

Hendrik Vandamme – Farmer, chairman of Farmers Association ‘Algemeen Boerensyndicaat’ , Chairman of the Strategic advisory board for agriculture and fisheries in Flanders (SALV).

Hendrik Slabbinck – Professor Marketing and researcher at the Be4Life research center for sustainable consumption (University of Ghent).

Chris Claes – Executive Director of Rikolto International.

Gwendolyn Maertens – Project Officer Food at Test Aankoop

Then the jury met for a long afternoon meeting. The individual scores served as input for the initial discussions on which initiatives would be nominated for the award or not. The jury left the room with 2 definitive nominations. For 4 initiatives, the jury formulated additional questions for the retailers.

Finally, after evaluating the additional information, the jury nominated one extra initiative, resulting in 3 final nominations.

Depending on the specific claims that an initiative made (living income for farmers, health, carbon neutrality, etc.) the jury members with the specific domain expertise had a bigger say in the final decision.

The 3 nominated initiatives where:

  • Colruyt – Dinner for 1, 2 or 3 euro;
  • Delhaize – Delicata
  • Lidl – No choice, good choice.

Step 4: Making the nominations public

The goal of the award was not only to highlight impactful and promising initiatives, but also to bring the complex topic of food sustainability to a wider audience in an accessible way.

Therefore, we collaborated with De Standaard, a leading newspaper in the Flemish part of Belgium. They did a three-day coverage, in which they performed a screening of each nominated initiative. Experts of the nominated retailers were interviewed on the opportunities and challenges they face when mainstreaming sustainability.

For each initiative, a member of the jury explained why the initiative met the strict criteria that were established in step 1.

Step 5: The public vote

At the time of publication, De Standaard also launched an online voting tool and invited readers to cast their vote for their favorite initiative.

In total 3260 people casted their vote, which is comparable to other polls organized in this way by the same newspaper. The initiative of Colruyt turned out as the winner of the public vote.

Step 6: Presenting the award

For the official proclamation of our award, we were happy to partner with Gondola, the monthly magazine for professionals in food retail in Belgium. During their Personality of the year-event, the I’m more than my receipt-award was one of the three awards that were presented.

The audience of leaders in retailers and food companies made a perfect match to lift the discussion to a higher level. The four award winners were asked to bring a question to the table. Alain Boulle (Intermarché) and Xavier Piesvaux (Delhaize) - both voted as personality of the year – made the perfect introduction to our award, by raising the question: What do we need to do to reconcile citizens, who demand sustainability, with consumers, who demand low prices?

Gondola then offered us the opportunity to present the campaign and the process behind our award in a five-minute talk. At the end of the talk, we held our own little Oscar moment: and the award goes to… Colruyt.

In its February edition, Gondola published a dedicated "#GreenMonth"-edition, focussing on sustainability in retail. The I'm more than my receipt-award also got some nice coverage.

Conclusion?

The award triggered attention and discussion among retailers and sustainability professionals alike. It provided retailers with an opportunity to raise attention on initiatives that are often not well known, or that - too easily - face the criticism of “greenwashing”. Thanks to the criteria document and the diverse perspectives of our jury, a kind of unofficial standard was set for ambitious sustainability initiatives. Could it serve as a tool for other organisations? That’s certainly something we want to explore further.

The journalistic investment of De Standaard raised the stakes to participate in the award and managed to introduce the topic of sustainability mainstreaming in all its complexities to a wider audience.

What’s next? Can we repeat the award in 2020? Do we keep a broad angle, or do we need to focus on specific aspects of sustainability?

And can we look beyond Belgium? We’re eager to find out about retail initiatives in other countries that aim to mainstream sustainable food. How can we work together to accelerate this movement? We sure welcome your feedback and ideas.

Reach out to us via mail or comment on our LinkedIn page.

Jelle Goossens
Jelle Goossens
Communications officer
016/74.50.33 | 0485/08.29.60
Liesbeth Van Meulder
Liesbeth Van Meulder
Program Advisor public & private sector