The grocery industry has reached a point where sustainability is no longer an optional extra, to which suppliers merely pay lip service. It is absolutely crucial to ensuring the survival of the industry.

To this end, Britvic last year appointed Trystan Farnworth, a 15 year veteran of the company, to the newly created role of Director of Sustainability.

Farnworth spoke to Wholesale Manager about how the company is driving the sustainability agenda.

You’ve been in role for nearly a year. What have been your biggest observations about sustainability in retail, especially in the convenience channel?

2019 was a watershed year for sustainability, so it was a great time for me to come into role. Consumer consciousness on topics like global warming, and packaging in particular rose to a level where there is now critical mass. Sustainability is no longer an option for businesses, it’s fundamental to future success.

Consumers expect the highest standards, care and authenticity from their favourite brands, and crucially we need to remember that they don’t want to pay more for it. The Government is also determined to make a difference, through taxation, regulation and structural re-sets, such as Deposit Return Schemes (DRS). Knowing all of this, we need to rise to the challenge. The best suppliers and retailers out there are using this fast-changing environment as an opportunity as much as they are seeing it as a challenge to respond to.

We’ve seen some brilliant initiatives from retailers and wholesalers alike in the past year, including bottle calorie reduction plans, shopper inspiration and education, and packaging removal. It’s been fantastic to see the whole supply chain work collaboratively, especially via organisations like WRAP on the UK Plastic Pact and Food Waste Reduction Roadmap, both of which Britvic are members of.

What have been your proudest moments since becoming the Director of Sustainability?

My proudest moment was when we won an FWD Gold Medal Award for our efforts in sustainability. The award recognised not just what we have done, but how we have done it in terms of partnering with customers to make the complex subject of sustainable packaging simple. We did this via the platform “Passionate About Great Packaging”, which allows us to work with our customers to help build a world where great packaging never becomes waste. It was a real honour to see Britvic recognised by the wholesale sector, which I was previously proud to serve in a commercial capacity for over five years.

What is Britvic doing to drive the sustainability agenda in convenience?

We are all part of the same supply chain, so the sustainability is a shared one. Every step we take to reduce our footprint directly benefits our customers’ footprint. We are proud of our positions of leadership across both health and climate. A Britvic soft drink now has an average calorie per serve of 16.5kcals.

We were also the first UK soft drinks company to sign up to best practice Science Based Targets initiative, a collaboration including the UN and WWF. This means committing to a 50% reduction in direct emissions by 2025, and to become carbon neutral by 2050.

What is your viewpoint on DRS? What should convenience retailers be preparing for and do wholesalers have a role to play?

As a business, we are enthusiastic and committed supporters of a well-designed, industry run and not-for-profit GB wide DRS scheme. We are currently working hard with everyone in the industry to lobby for the best possible scheme that will work for consumers and retailers. The best designed schemes in the world deliver amazing results, so we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity here to step-change recycling in GB. In practice, there is still a lot unknown about the final scheme in Scotland and of course the potential schemes in the rest of the UK is at a much earlier phase of development. As things become clearer, there will be a lot for retailers to do as they play a crucial role in the process in both changing deposits and in acting as return points. At this early stage, we would encourage retailers to start to give thought to how they will facilitate returns and what that means practically for the running of their store. For example, my tip would be to get in touch with Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) suppliers. Start to get a sense of the options available and what might be right for the business down the line.

My biggest top tip for wholesalers to give to any convenience retailer right now would be to work out how many bottles and cans they sell on average per day, then place them in bin bags. This will give a visual guide to the quantity of returns on a typical day that they may need to handle.

Do we need to follow a more holistic approach to waste or should the focus be on plastics and eradicating it from shelves first?

Widely recyclable plastic types, especially PET drinks bottles, when part of a circular scheme (such as DRS), are very attractive materials. They are light and low in carbon compared to other packaging materials.

Everything Britvic does is in service of designing the best packaging possible, then ensuring that great packaging never becomes waste. It’s a holistic approach to keep packaging in the economy and out of the environment, building a truly circular economy. This applies equally to all packaging, not just plastic.

100% of our bottles and cans are recyclable. We have also made some big commitments for the year to come. We recently made a transformational £5m investment in UK sourced rPET to support our long term plans. We have also committed to remove at least 500 tonnes of plastic weight by the end of this year.

What three tips would you give wholesalers to help convenience retailers to create a more sustainable business?

1. Make choices. Sustainability is a big, broad, complex and everchanging area. You can’t solve the problem, but you can build a focused plan to execute that will make a big different to your business

2. Use others. We are all in one value chain, and there is so much expertise out there in the supplier base which can help, so use it. Britvic is always happy to help

3. Communicate. The clearer and more inspired your stakeholders are on your sustainable business plan, the more success you will have

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