High quality, safe, sustainable
The products of the Uelzena Group are well known in the industry for their reliability and high quality. This reputation is also reflected in the overall development of sales in 2017. At the same time, the company has been able to push one of its most important future projects forward: the integration of milk production into sustainability management.
For the customers of the Uelzena Group, quality and safety of food and ingredients have top priority. However, they increasingly raise questions such as: Where do the raw materials come from that are used to make the Uelzena products? Which ecological, social and animal welfare standards have been acknowledged in the production of the agricultural raw materials? Hence, the Uelzena Group is continually developing measures that ensure that the products offered to their customers are of a high quality, safe and transparent.
From fodder to stable: how sustainable is milk?
Up until 2017, the raw material milk was not integrated into the sustainable procurement management program of the Uelzena Group. This is about to change, little by little. One important step: determination and analysis of the initial position in the agricultural companies that produce the milk delivered to the Uelzena Group. This has meant that from September to December 2017 the company has collected sustainability data via an online survey from about 330 milk producers of Uelzena eG. The tool used for data collection is a science-based questionnaire. Based on the results, it will be possible for the first time to make statements on the sustainability of milk production that are valid for the company and the industry.
The survey took place within the scope of the nationwide 3-year pilot project, “sustainability module milk”. The Uelzena Group is one of 34 German dairies that participated in the project. Within this project, data from about 3,000 milk producers was collected. The evaluation of all the data collected will be completed by fall 2018 and will allow a comparison within the milk industry. The results of the Uelzena Group will be discussed in 2018 internally with project partners within the setting of a stakeholder dialogue. See also: key topic 2017
Switching to non GMO cheese production
In 2017, planning and the first steps for an important and complex change were initiated. Starting in mid-2018, the Uelzena Group will offer its customers the chance to opt for non GMO cheese, which is cheese made from non GMO raw milk. In order to obtain the "non GMO" certification, food must not be, contain or be produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Key point for the Uelzena Group: for animal food such as milk products, the animals must not be fed with genetically engineered plants. This is in particular relevant to the feeding and feed that the cows have which deliver the milk for the Altmark Käserei. In early 2018, the feeding basics were changed to non GMO feed.
Cocoa: focus on the suppliers of the suppliers
Sugar and cocoa are other important agricultural raw materials in the supply chain that are analyzed for possible risks by the sustainability management team of the Uelzena Group. However, the initial focus is on the raw material milk and the pilot project, which runs until 2019.
One exception to this priority: the labor and human rights in accordance with the Code of Conduct of the Uelzena Group. For agricultural raw materials from risk countries, Uelzena aims at contributing to guarantee compliance with labor and human rights. The definition “risk countries” follows a classification of the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI).
This is the reason why the Uelzena Group is a member of SEDEX, a data platform where companies share information on the results of SMETA audits. As a minimum standard, Uelzena expects its suppliers to comply with the requirements of the Ethical Trade Initiative (ETI). In cooperation with the suppliers, the Uelzena Group is in the process of involving all relevant upstream suppliers up to the country of origin by 2018 and also committing them to the ETI. The respective results will be published in the Sustainability Report 2018.
“We enable our customers to choose sustainability and responsibility. With the VLOG membership, we are expanding our range of products that can be manufactured according to recognized sustainability standards.”
Uwe Radke, Managing Director Marketing and Sales, Uelzena
Sustainability context: the necessity of a sustainable product strategy
The modern production of food involves divided responsibilities and comprises several stages. At the heart of this process is the further processing of agricultural raw materials into intermediate products and ingredients. This is the core competence of Uelzena eG and its subsidiaries. In 2017 the Group alone procured 588,683 tons of milk raw materials - which is more than ever before. Other agricultural raw materials such as sugar and cocoa are also used.
From all of these raw materials, the facilities in Uelzen, Ratzeburg, Bismark and Warmsen predominantly produce intermediate products and ingredients. Customers are the industry, catering services and food retailers. Moreover, the Uelzena Group also produces products for the final customer (e.g. Butaris) as well as ready-to-eat products on behalf of its customers (private label).
Because of its dual function as a purchaser of agricultural raw materials and as a processor, the Uelzena Group is aware of its multiple responsibilities:
- for the health of the consumers that want to buy high quality and safe food.
- for the economic viability of the farmers who depend on reliable buying of their agricultural raw materials.
- for the environment and the welfare of farm animals.
- for the respect of human rights, which is particularly important for agricultural raw materials sourced from non-European countries.
High quality and safe products and reliable purchasing of agricultural raw materials are by tradition important topics for the Uelzena Group, which have always been carefully managed within the company.
The Group is currently working to identify possible risks related to the environment and animal welfare in its supply chain. This is because one thing is for sure: the production of agricultural raw materials may have a critical impact on the environment, farm animals and humans. Important topics for milk production are, for example, the type of animal husbandry and proper nutrient management. As far as cocoa is concerned, the topics are child labor and the overall difficult working and living conditions for small farmers.
Our management approach: Products
The action field products comprises several sustainability topics that are important for the stakeholders of the Uelzena Group. Customers, members and suppliers are interested in sustainable and reliable sourcing, customer health and safety, labeling of products and a strategic focus on growth markets.
By applying various strategic objectives and coordinating measures, the Uelzena Group strives to maintain and possibly improve the already achieved optimum level. In doing so, the Group is pursuing a continuous development process, for example, by gradually identifying possible sustainability risks in its supply chains. As far as milk raw materials are concerned, the foundation has been laid with the sustainability module milk. After the survey has been evaluated and analyzed we will define our approach towards more sustainable milk production and then address the next elements in the supply chain: sugar followed by cocoa.
Our sustainable product strategy – targets and measures
- The Uelzena Group aims for profitable growth in strategic business areas, predominantly in the fields of milk ingredients, instant beverages, contract manufacturing and health food.
- A high safety level and uniform good quality are ensured in the production of food – from the receipt of raw materials and throughout manufacturing.
- The sourcing of raw materials and other materials is to be more sustainable. The Uelzena Group is taking the increasing customer demands for sustainability as a reference.
- The process-focused quality management system systematically accompanies all processes, checks for errors and ensures that product specifications are complied with.
- The Uelzena Group has been certified according to the most important schemes: ISO 9001/2008, IFS Food (higher level), BRC (British Retail Consortium), Fair Trade, UTZ, EU Eco regulation, Kosher and Halal upon request.
- Our laboratories operate at high-end chemical-physical standards, which for example include specific test methods on the structure of particles. The laboratories are certified according to ISO 17025.
- Risk-based quality control plans with defined sampling schedules are in place for all raw materials, intermediate and finished products. This process ensures that the defined microbiological, chemical-physical and sensory product properties as well as quality parameters are complied with.
- HACCP management includes allergen management, computer-aided maintenance and repair, foreign matter management, a hygiene concept (zones and requirements) as well as pest control.
- Supplier controls: by requesting specific information, on-site visits and supplier audits. There must be raw material specifications available for each raw material. Moreover, the Uelzena Group produces its milk-based ingredients and products exclusively from milk raw materials that stem from Germany or the European Union.
- Risk technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology or irradiation are, in general excluded.
- Packaging materials as well as food contact materials and articles comply with German and European regulations. Added to that, supplier declarations of non-objection according to Regulations (EC) 1935/2004 and 10/2001 are available for these materials.
- In order to further improve the high quality and hygiene standards of the Uelzena Group, a new automatic gantry for the transport of products between the storage facilities and the production area was erected at the Uelzen site. Repacking onto plastic pallets reduces the impact on the environment, the risk of intrusion of foreign matters (such as wooden splinters) and the external contamination of the production areas. The lock concept was also expanded, which now allows the different product streams to be better segregated. This prevents allergens that are subject to labelling such as milk powder to get into other products (for example, yeast).
- The Uelzena Group controls its suppliers on the basis of risks. Should any information be conspicuous, our buyers reserve the right to have it checked by auditors directly at the suppliers' companies.
- Since 2016, the Uelzena Group has been working step by step on the development of a sustainable procurement management program. All procurement materials have been analyzed and future strategic priorities defined based on these findings. The most important agricultural raw materials are: milk raw materials, sugar and cocoa. For these materials, a management approach was developed and passed which includes several stages: analysis of potential sustainability risks, supplier dialogues, definition of requirement and risk-based reviews of compliance with the requirements.
Sustainable sourcing: milk raw materials
In 2017, 93 percent of our milk raw materials (quantity share) came from regional producers. The agricultural companies producing the milk are located within a radius of less than 150 kilometers around the Uelzena sites.
In 2017, sustainability data on milk production was collected via an online survey from milk suppliers to Uelzena eG. This survey at farm level is based on the sustainability module milk, a science-based questionnaire containing more than 70 ecological, economical, social and animal welfare criteria. Sustainability module results
Sustainable sourcing: labor and human rights
- Customers of the Uelzena Group shall be given the opportunity to select whether they use conventional or sustainable non-dairy raw materials such as cocoa. Sustainable raw materials can be provided based on internationally acknowledged sustainability standards such Fairtrade, UTZ, Rain Forest Alliance and Organic.
- Compliance with labor and human rights is a high priority for the Uelzena Group and is laid down in the company's Code of Conduct. Therefore, the Uelzena Group requests transparency from its suppliers when they sell us raw materials from sensitive countries of origin in Asia, Africa and South America. The buyers at the Uelzena Group request self-disclosure from their direct suppliers in Europe - usually intermediaries or processors – confirming that the companies observe human and employee rights in accordance with the requirements of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). New suppliers provide the required information and data via an online supplier portal. Step by step, the suppliers’ suppliers shall be included as well – along the supply chains back to the origin, for example the cocoa plantations and cocoa farmers in Africa. In line with the further development of sustainable procurement management, more sustainability aspects from the suppliers may be requested.