World Nutella day is celebrated around the world on 5 February each year. In light of this, here we consider how Nutella is using its large influence to promote the use of sustainable palm oil and the role certifications now play in informing consumers.

The chocolate hazelnut spread, manufactured by the Ferrero Group (“Ferrero”), is sold globally to approximately 57 countries. Nutella is not only well-known for its taste, but it also known for being one of the larger companies to use sustainable palm oil in its products and show clear commitment to avoid deforestation, species extinction, high emission of greenhouse gases and violation of human rights by using sustainable palm oil.

Sustainable palm oil

Palm oil is a form of vegetable oil which is made from the fruits of oil palm trees.

Many consider the use of palm oil to be harmful to the planet due to its association with deforestation. This was recognised by the UK Government back in 2012 when it issued a policy paper highlighting its commitment towards a sustainable production of palm oil. In particular, there were commitments taken by various bodies such as the Food and Drink Federation and Business Services Association to encourage food and drink manufacturers to be aware of or comply with the standards developed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The RSPO is an international non-profit organisation that develops sustainability standards and has put in place an independent process for verifying production and supply chains. Nutella (and its manufacturer Ferrero) has adopted the standards of the RSPO, and such standards are likely to be included in their commercial agreements with palm oil growers and suppliers. In particular, there is likely to be provisions which require growers and suppliers to comply with the seven principles which include behaving ethically and transparently as well as to protect, conserve and enhance ecosystems and the environment.

Ferrero has gone further than certification by the RSPO by adopting their own Palm Oil Charter to strengthen their commitment to responsibly sourcing palm oil. These commitments go above that which is required in the RSPO standards, for example, the Charter requires suppliers to provide fully traceable oil, report on greenhouse gas emission, and actively avoid corruption (amongst other commitments).

According to Ferrero, these commitments set out in the Charter were to be implemented by the end of 2015. As such, it is likely that all of Ferrero’s contracts with its suppliers will include contractual terms to comply with the commitments set out in their Charter.

There has been a significant rise in consumers considering their shopping habits and what effect it has on the planet. As part of this, many businesses have responded by producing “greener” alternatives, or committing to sustainability standards similar to Ferrero. Alongside, there has been significant rise in marketing of products and the focus on their green side.

When marketing and labelling products, care should be taken by businesses to ensure they do not give absolute claims that cannot be substantiated. In particular, making claims such as “environmentally friendly” should not be used without qualification or clear evidence that can show the full manufacturing cycle of the product proving it does not cause environmental damage. The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”), the UK’s independent regulator of advertising online and on other media, has noted that even “green statements of intent” could be misleading to consumers, depending on their context. As such, Nutella packaging uses phrases such as “committed to” and “working towards” using more sustainable palm oil which are more likely to be seen as a mission statement or belief by ASA, considering Nutella’s commitments outlined in the Palm Oil Charter.

Further information for marketing of “green claims” can be found in the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ Green Claims Code

Enjoying World Nutella Day

It is clear that, around the world, there is an effort from food and drink manufacturers, as well as government bodies, to commit to using more sustainable palm oil and many consumers now look for identifiable certifications to ensure the products they purchase are environmentally friendly. Nutella and Ferrero have taken active steps to ensure that their brand has made commitments to use sustainable palm oil by including the adoption of RSPO standards, as well as creating their own Charter for their suppliers to comply with. Therefore, not only should consumers have enjoyed Nutella on World Nutella day for its great taste, but also for its commitment to protecting the environment.

This article was co-written by Haris Saleem, Trainee Solicitor