The industry boomed when Rainforest Alliance and Utz, two of the biggest players in the voluntary agricultural production seal of approval, announced their merger in June of 2017. "We look back on a history of continued growth and strong partnerships," says Han de Groot, who has previously headed Utz and now the merged organization, "the merger will expand our reach, strengthen our voice and help us achieve our mission - a world of sustainable agriculture is the rule - one step closer. "Fusion is an answer to global challenges such as deforestation, climate change, global poverty and social inequality, de Groot said. They wanted to join forces.

Bundling strengths

Rainforest Alliance and Utz are committed to the same goal, namely to promote environmentally and socially sustainable agricultural production, and work in many ways the same field: both are very present in Africa and also strong (Rainforest Alliance) or exclusively (Utz) in cocoa, Coffee and tea sector active. Rainforest Alliance is broader and also certifies bananas, palm oil, pineapple and other raw materials.

The power of the new organization should come from the bundling of the differences: for example, the Rainforest Alliance, based in New York, has been primarily involved in the smallholder sector for 32 years and is committed to preserving the landscape. The Utz Foundation, founded 16 years ago in Amsterdam, on the other hand, works primarily with large companies, offers a broad training program and has recognized expertise in the area of ​​product traceability. The name of the older and larger organization will be retained, the Utz brand may disappear entirely.

The merger was successfully completed at the beginning of this year. Since then, the partners have been working on the new joint certification program. Processes are to be simplified, the focus on the living conditions of the producers strengthened and, quite new, a supply chain certification offered. The results will be presented at the end of 2019.


The merger of the two sustainability standards was welcomed by all sides. Good news was particularly for those 180.000 farmers who are still certified to both standards, as the president of the Colombian coffee farmers association Roberto Vélez points out. He is already recommending to the farmers, the cost savings that are expected by the merger of the two labels, effectively in sustainable production and thus to invest in higher profits.

Vélez is thus raising a growing problem that Andre de Freitas, CEO of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) - from which the Rainforest Alliance emerged - has recently mentioned as well: that farmers in developing countries today can provide evidence of 15 certification, often but spend more time auditing than improving their production. The cause is in the market, where on the one hand end consumers look for product certifications like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade or Bio and on the other hand the industry demands proof of so-called business-to-business labels. These include Global GAP, Bonsucro or the Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO Roundtable.

Raw materials: certifications are booming

Sustainably certified areas are on the increase, and last but not least they have risen rapidly in bananas, tea and cocoa. The certified area already reaches more than 11,6 million hectares.


In view of the boom of certified products (see graphic) with the correspondingly increasing effort, the issue of harmonization is becoming increasingly common. However, mergers such as the Rainforest Alliance and Utz will remain isolated cases due to lack of sufficient overlap, notes an 2017 report from the International Trade Center (ITC) titled "From Fragmentation to Coordination." Efficiency gains, which ultimately benefit farmers, can also be achieved through other forms of cooperation. The decision of the two most important standards for sustainable soy, ProTerra and Round Table for Responsible Soy RTRS, to cooperate in future audits is also mentioned positively in this sense.


Even for the consumer, who can barely keep track of the much cited label jungle, the label saving is an advantage - the purchasing guide of the Austrian Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism lists for the area of ​​food and drink to the hundred labels and quality labels ,

Interview with Fritz Kaltenegger, Cafe + Co

Important orientation

The sustainability focus is currently more on packaging than on value chains, says Cafe + Co boss Fritz Kaltenegger.

The decisive question for the consumer as to whether the labels also deliver what they promise is not easy to answer as far as international labels are concerned. For just because the producers are mostly certified multiple times, the effect of individual certifications can hardly be isolated and evaluated, as the ITC report on the state of sustainable markets holds. According to Cafe + Co's Managing Director Fritz Kaltenegger, the consumer is now addressing the issue pragmatically: he has developed a basic trust in trade and industry that the corresponding standards have now been reached (see interview).


In fact, "big companies can not and do not want to make a mistake," says Daniela Bogner, Sales and Marketing Manager of the Austrian fruit, starch and sugar company Agrana, and therefore stick to product safety that is at the service of the consumer's health stands, but also with sustainability along the supply chain the bar high. The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI), an 2002 platform created by Nestlé, Unilever and Danone to share and promote development and sustainable agricultural practices, has given the 2010 manufacturing industry a workable tool: sustainability assessment for the farm (Farm Sustainability Assessment FSA), which 2016 digitized with the support of ITC and made fit for the exchange on the net.

The free tool is suitable for each product and is based on the self-assessment of the farmer according to standardized questions on all relevant sustainability topics such as farm management, working conditions, soil and nutrient management or crop protection. Upon fulfillment of the prerequisites, the farmer may gain FSA gold, silver, or bronze status via external verification. "This allows a producer to make his mark as a sustainable company in the industry," explains Bogner.

The clue to FSA is that it credits the farmers' certifications that they use, as long as the respective labels have undergone an FSA benchmarking, ie they have been assessed and compared. At Agrana, where 2015 FSA is used, this service is appreciated. "FSA helps us evaluate and document compliance with environmental and social criteria in the agricultural supply chain and compare the value of different certifications," says Bogner. She explains at the same time: "The FSA status, for example, can not be printed on the chocolate packaging, as it is not a system for end customers. The classic labels will therefore continue to be important in the future. "

These are now lining up for FSA benchmarking and are looking forward to a good result. They can be doubly useful to their licensees: in communication with the end user as well as with the industry. Just a few weeks ago, the coffee label 4C proudly spread the word equivalent to an FSA silver equivalent. Even with a Rainforest Alliance certification, the producer directly achieves the FSA silver status - and Utz even makes gold possible right away.

Photos: Conservation, Benjamin Drummond, SustainAbility