Sustainability as a driver of innovation and responsibility
Uelzena retained its focus on sustainability in the value-added chain in the 2022 reporting year. The company reports considerable progress, from sustainable milk production to launching a regional cheese label and environmentally friendly packaging solutions. The Group thereby affirms its commitment to sustainable solutions, contributing positively to the sector and the environment.
Uelzena attaches great importance to sustainability when it comes to its primary raw ingredient, milk. In 2022, the supplied volume of raw milk rose by a further six percent to 744 million kg in total. To measure sustainability issues in milk production, the company uses the QM sustainability module milk, which covers criteria relating to the economy, ecology, society and animal welfare. Uelzena has been involved in this industry solution since the very start and will also be taking part in the third phase of the project from 2023 to 2026. The results of the last data collection, which had a participation rate of 66 percent, were used to initiate a learning and improvement process together with dairy farmers in a series of webinars. Preparatory measures were also taken ahead of a large-scale survey of greenhouse gas emissions generated by milk production, using the online agricultural climate check tool “Agrar-Klimacheck”.
.Broader product diversity: Launch of “Lisa & Jan”, a regional cheese label
Uelzena eG has developed a new label to sell sliced cheese. Together with the dairy farmers, the sales & marketing and production departments came up with the idea of the “Lisa & Jan” label. The product line-up of Gouda and Edam in slices and blocks can easily be expanded to include additional products such as butter and concentrated butter. It will be sold at production site canteens, farm shops and regional food retailers. The “Lisa & Jan” brand name represents the dairy farmers as well as the production site employees, and acts as a friendly and identifiable brand ambassador. The “quality from one source” slogan emphasises the products’ regional nature and value.
„My team and I make no compromises when it comes to quality assurance. The entire production chain is monitored consistently from raw material sourcing to the finished product. Food safety is top priority for us.“
Christel Nolting, Produktmanager Instantgetränke Private Label, Uelzena eG
Human rights emphasised when sourcing: Ensuring compliance with labour and human rights
Uelzena eG also sources raw materials further afield than its local region, procuring cocoa and coffee from risk countries according to the BSCI risk assessment. To ensure compliance with labour and human rights, the company requires its suppliers to adhere to the requirements of the Ethical Trading Initiative. In the reporting year, 34 percent of suppliers from risk countries of origin were able to present certifications such as SEDEX, BSCI, TFS, SA8000 or Fairtrade. There is limited scope to boost further uptake of these certifications as several customers maintain strong partnerships with suppliers or functional restrictions limit the choice of suppliers. Although the topic remains pertinent, disrupted supply chains in 2022 mean that our focus lies on securing production processes.
Packaging with a future: Focus on environmentally friendly solutions
As awareness for sustainable packaging in the instant beverage sector steps up, Uelzena aims to support and walk alongside its customers as an expert in this field. The company is heavily focused on issues such as the eco-friendliness and recyclability of packaging, and its instant beverage division already offers an aluminium-free composite film which has no adverse effect on product quality. Additional solutions are being trialled. Investment in new technical equipment has also created the possibility of sealing tins with a base made from cardboard instead of tinplate. This has significantly increased packaging recyclability.
Outlook for 2023: Future measures to focus on sustainability
In 2023, Uelzena will strengthen its commitment to the sustainable procurement of raw materials and focus on developing packaging that is even more environmentally friendly. The company also plans to amalgamate the established Scho brand and own-brand Grubon under a unified own brand, SCHO, in 2023 to create a new product concept. Another continuing core priority is to support climate-friendly milk production. A survey of dairy farmers will be conducted at the start of the year in order to identify greenhouse gas emissions and determine suitable measures to be taken.
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 the Uelzena Group and its subsidiaries. In 2021, the Group alone procured 788,000 tonnes of milk raw materials as well as other agricultural raw materials such as sugar and cocoa.
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).
Due to 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, and which have always been carefully managed within the company.
The action field products comprises several sustainability topics, which are important for the stakeholders of the Uelzena Group. Customers, members and suppliers are interested in sustainable and reliable sourcing, customer health and safety, labelling 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 level. In doing so, the Group is pursuing a continuous development process, for example, by gradually identifying possible sustainability risks in its supply chains. For milk raw materials, for example, the sustainability module milk provides the basis for that. Using a continuous improvement process, data is collected and analysed and weak points are identified in order to develop objectives and measures. The overall goal: constant improvements aimed at a sustainable milk production. Added to that, the Uelzena Group is setting up sustainable supply chain management for important non-milk raw materials including cocoa, sugar and coffee creamer.
Our sustainable product strategy – targets and measures
- The Uelzena Group endeavours to continue to improve the added value of all its product groups.
- The production of safe and high-quality products on a long-term basis should be guaranteed.
- The range of sustainably sourced raw ingredients and materials should be expanded. The Uelzena Group is using 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 9001/2015, IFS Food (higher level), Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, EU organic 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.
- Suppliers are inspected by requesting specific information, on-site visits and supplier audits. Raw material specifications must be 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 programme. All procurement materials have been analysed and future strategic priorities defined based on these findings. The most important agricultural raw materials are: Milk raw materials, sugar, cocoa and coffee creamer. 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
- 95 percent of our milk raw materials came from regional producers (as of 2022). The agricultural companies producing the milk are located within a radius of less than 150 kilometres around the Uelzena sites.
- A requirement for milk delivery is adherence to the national standard for producing milk, QM Milk. This is used for quality assurance in milk production and comprises 69 criteria. In addition to hygiene management, criteria also relate to species-appropriate animal husbandry, the responsible handling of veterinary medicinal products, the working environment and feed safety. Dairy farmers are audited and certified on site at regular intervals.
- Sustainability data on milk production has been collected via a survey since 2017. This survey at farm level is based on the QM Dairy Sustainability Tool (Thünen Institute, QM Milch e.V.), a science-based questionnaire containing more than 80 ecological, economic, social and animal welfare criteria. The third project phase started mid-2023 and the Uelzena Group participates again as a practice partner. See also: sustainability module milk.
Sustainable sourcing: labour and human rights
- Customers of the Uelzena Group shall be given the opportunity to select whether they use conventional or sustainable non-milk raw materials such as cocoa. Sustainable raw materials comply with internationally acknowledged sustainability standards such Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Organic.
- Compliance with labour 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 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 – in most cases intermediaries or processors – confirming that the companies observe human and employee rights in accordance with the requirements of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). In 2020, about 50 percent of suppliers from these regions not only fulfilled the requirements of the ETI, they were also audited for further standards such as SEDEX, BSCI, TFS, SA800 or Fairtrade. New suppliers provide the required information and data via an online supplier portal. Gradually, the suppliers’ suppliers shall be included as well – along the supply chain back to the origin. In line with the further development of sustainable procurement management, more sustainability aspects from the suppliers may be requested.
- The Uelzena Group is a member of SEDEX, a data platform where companies share information on the results of SMETA audits. SMETA is an ethics-based audit format that provides information on the four areas defined by SEDEX: work, health and safety, environment and business ethics. The Uelzena Group has also been audited for a number of years and can therefore present its customers a SMETA 4 certificate confirming compliance with ethical, labour and environmental standards.