2014 JM Smucker’s Corporate Responsibility Report

by on July 17, 2014

groundhog

Groundhog Day would be an appropriate release time for Smucker’s sustainability reports.

JM Smucker’s, owner of Folgers, Millstone, Café Bustelo, Café Pilon, and Dunkin Donuts retail coffee, has released its 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report, its fourth after being dragged unwillingly into developing a coffee sustainabilty plan by shareholders.

Once again, there isn’t much to say about the report’s coffee sustainability section. The coffee sections from the last two years have been nearly identical, much of it word-for-word — take a look at my posts on the 2013 and 2012 reports. This year, they have at least done some rephrasing, but follow the same theme as previous reports — restating their goal for certified coffee purchases to reach 10% of its total retail purchases by 2016, and highlighting organizations that they support: TechnoServe, the Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung Foundation, and World Coffee Research.

The most notable difference this year is that they have finally stated their progress towards the 10% certified goal: in 2014 they indicate that 6% of the coffee they purchased was certified. Caveats: First, we don’t know the total amount of coffee the company purchases; the last figures available from 2008 and 2010 put it at an average of 265,000 tons. Second, the company is careful to specify the goal is 10% of retail purchases. Not sure how this is defined, or what proportion of total purchases this represents.

So in a strict sense, this report does indicate some progress in the company sourcing third-party certified coffee. However, we can’t really quantify it, and the certification they are using is primarily UTZ Certified, which doesn’t have strong ecological criteria.

One also has to wonder what happens when the 10% certified purchases goal is reached. The company states it believes this will represent the “highest level of certified purchasing by any mainstream coffee roaster in North America.”  This may or may not be true, depending on their definitions, but I can certainly argue that buying a higher volume of UTZ Certified coffee (at best less than 30,000 tons using a generous estimate) does not have the ecological impact of, for example, Starbucks sourcing 180,000 tons of coffee under its CAFÉ Practices standards, which have stronger environmental criteria than UTZ.

I don’t give a huge amount of weight to their “partnerships” with organizations that help coffee growers. It’s not that these organizations don’t do substantial important work (they do), it’s mostly because the company’s level of support and involvement is difficult to evaluate. Their support to TechnoServe is apparently financial. In the past it has been a very small fraction of Smucker’s profits; no details have appeared in recent TechnoServe annual reports. There is an entire page in the Smucker’s 2014 report about the company’s “on the ground” partnership with the Neumann Foundation in Sumatra — yet curiously nothing about this project (or Smucker’s) appears on the Foundation’s web site.  The relationship with World Coffee Research also appears to be monetary, but again, no details on the level of support. For a company that in 2014 made $642 million in profit on over $2 billion in net sales in their U.S. retail coffee division alone, I’m not sure we can give Smucker’s much credit for meaningful sustainability efforts from these apparently modest contributions.

Overall, this report is a slight improvement over the past 2 years, but this powerhouse coffee buyer has a long way to go to improve transparency and prove their commitment to purchasing sustainable coffee.

Illustration adapted from photos by Cornelia Kopp/AlicePopkorn and Ken Fager/kenfagerdotcom at Flickr under Creative Commons Licenses.

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