Jörg Schultz, R & D Process and Technology Project Manager at AUSTRIA JUICE, reports in an interview about projects for sustainable agriculture in Hungary and Poland - and about the international commitment to sustainability.
For more than 20 years, AUSTRIA JUICE has been committed to sustainability in the three areas of business, the economy, the environment and social engagement. Jörg Schultz is responsible for Sustainability at AUSTRIA JUICE and gives an insight into the future-oriented way of producing sustainable drinks:
What role does sustainability play today in the food and beverage industry?
A very big one! The food and beverage industry is increasingly focusing on sustainability. The raw material is getting more and more in the focus and manufacturers and customers want to be able to trace back to the origin, where the product comes from. The customers also want to know whether the contract partners can live well and long-term on the cooperation with the manufacturers.
AUSTRIA JUICE currently operates two Integrated Plantation projects with sustainable contract cultivation abroad - one in Hungary and one in Poland. What was the trigger for this commitment?
Sustainability has long been an integral part of the company philosophy for AUSTRIA JUICE. This begins long before the industrial processing of agricultural raw materials in their procurement and extends across the entire value chain. Therefore, in 2000 we decided to start a first Integrated Plantation project in Hungary. In 2007, the second project in Poland followed.
Why did you choose Hungary?
Currently, we operate five production sites in Hungary and are very well connected. At that time, we recognized a need for support because many farmers had given up their farms due to an absence of customers and they did not make economic progress. In addition, many were not networked with each other. In addition, the conditions for growing apple trees in Hungary are ideal. The same thing happened later in Poland.
Which strategy did you pursue?
In the development of the project we cooperated with research institutes in Germany and Hungary. Together with experts, we selected the best apple tree varieties that suited the soil conditions and started the sustainable cultivation together with the Hungarian apple farmers.
How does the collaboration work and how do the farmers benefit from it?
At the beginning of the project, we pre-financed the trees from a regional nursery in Hungary for the farmers. Resistant apple varieties were selected that require about 60 percent less pesticides. As a result, farmers can save money on the one hand, and on the other, we help protect the environment and take into account the consumers' need for natural products.
How does the cooperation with the farmers look like?
We contract the farmers over the long term and guarantee delivery acceptance. We also hold a variety of training courses for farmers, such as how to farm fields efficiently, how to properly service machines, how to properly store chemicals, how to produce documentation, etc. This will ensure both quality and yield. There are our own consultants who are always available for our farmers. After this project of sustainable apple cultivation, which was a win-win situation for both - us and the farmers, we implemented the same concept in Poland in 2007.
How do these projects contribute to environmental protection?
As already mentioned, we avoid from the beginning through the selected trees with resistant apple varieties that unnecessarily many pesticides are bought. In terms of water, we look at each other locally, which type of irrigation makes sense, since rains are less.
Both projects account for 18 percent of the apples processed by Austria Juice worldwide. Is an expansion planned?
The proportion is rising steadily. We will continue to focus on our sustainability projects to always be ahead of the market. Sustainability in the beverage industry is a must-have. Our credo is to act and not to react.
How successful is the concept today?
It was not until 2017 that we had the system verified by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI). There was a questionnaire with 112 questions covering the three areas of sustainability – economically, ecological and social. In this audit, the project was rated on average silver and gold.
These are great achievements!
Even more important than this assessment is the cooperation with the farmers, and that we develop together.
AUSTRIA JUICE has also been an active member of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) since 2014. It offers industrial refiners helpful tools to evaluate and document good environmental and social criteria in the agricultural supply chain. How do you get involved in sustainability?
We are an active member of SAI. As part of the SAI conference in Poland, we organized a field trip to our contract farmers for those interested in various sectors from all over the world. In addition, we report on our experience in podium discussions and events and provide information about which systems we use.
AUSTRIA JUICE is also a member of the global initiative “The Sustainable Juice Covenant”, which more and more companies are joining.
Yes - The aim of the initiative is to make the procurement, production and trading of fruit juices and vegetable juices, purees and their concentrates 100% sustainable by 2030.