How we make our own brands more sustainable

If you shop regularly in our supermarkets and buy our own brand products, you probably already know that we’re trying to make them even more sustainable. Fruit punnets made from recycled cardboard, less sugar in our breakfast cereals, more sustainably produced rice and coffee, etc. And we go beyond what’s required by law. So you can consciously choose products which are made with respect for people, animals and the environment. Mieke Vercaeren, responsible for making our own brands more sustainable, tells us exactly how she and her team approach this.

How do we make our own brands more sustainable?

Mieke: “First and foremost, our own brand products must be high quality and delicious. If not, they’d never make it onto our shelves. But we also want to give our products added value on three levels. For example, we opt for sustainable sourcing wherever we can. This starts with the raw materials because they often have a large ecological footprint. We also want to improve the composition of our products. Less sugar in our biscuits, no parabens in our shampoo, more fibre in our breakfast cereals, etc. In short: make them healthier. And the packaging must also be sustainable and functional.”

Taste testing in Colruyt Overijse
We ask customers to give their opinions about our own brand products in tasting sessions in our shops, like here in Colruyt Overijse.

We focus on four topics for the sustainability of our own brands: health, society, animal welfare and the environment.

How do we decide which products to tackle first?

Mieke: “Naturally we give priority to best-selling products such as meat, rice, eggs, etc. By focusing on these first, we can immediately make a large impact. For instance, we no longer offer endangered fish species even though they sold very well. Of course our shop staff explained this to our customers.”

“In addition, we look at what affects people. So we’ve arrived at four sustainability topics: health, society, animal welfare and the environment. These topics also determine what we prioritise.”

Boni basmati rice
First, we make best-selling products, such as rice, eggs and meat more sustainable, because that delivers the greatest positive impact.

How can we source sustainably?

Mieke: “The quickest way to make our raw materials more sustainable is to choose certified suppliers. There are internationally recognised certificates or labels for most raw materials which suppliers can obtain if they meet a number of sustainability criteria. For example FSC, Bio, Fairtrade ... Sometimes there is no certificate, or the criteria aren’t strict enough for us. In those cases, we work with experts to establish our own sustainability and quality requirements.”

Graindor coffee with a UTZ certificate
There are several certificates for coffee beans, such as UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade.

And is there another way?

Mieke: “Yes, the second sustainable sourcing option is a chain project. There, we look not only at the sustainability of the raw material, but also at every link in the production process. We prefer to work with Collibri Foundation to set up local training projects.”

Coffee plantation in Colombia
In Burundi and Colombia, we are already running chain projects involving coffee, together with Collibri Foundation.

Step by step, we’re improving our own brand products. It’s a continuous process, because every two years we screen our products all over again.

How do we improve the composition of our products?

Mieke: “For food products, we examine all nutrients, such as sugar, salt and fibre. We leave out any additives or substitutes which don't improve the product. This also applies to non-food products. We remove unhealthy chemicals such as parabens from cosmetics and bisphenol from drinking bottles. Of course we do that together with our suppliers. And before a modified product reaches our shelves, we carry out extensive taste and usage tests.”

Taste test in OKay Vollezele
We test a product’s taste thoroughly if we change its nutritional composition. If it’s not delicious, we don't sell it.

And what about our products’ packaging?

Mieke: “We try as much as we can to use alternative and renewable materials for packaging. The less electricity or water used in production and recycling the better. But the packaging has to remain functional. Packaging also provides better storage, and thus less food waste.”

Boni Selection apple packaging
We also think carefully about fruit packaging. What is sustainable, functional and avoids food waste?

Name: Mieke Vercaeren
Function: Head Centre of Excellence for sustainable products

Job? • My team and I make our own brand products more sustainable. The nutritional composition, packaging, environmental impact, animal welfare, working conditions during production ... We also set up new chains in third world countries, reinforced by educational projects of Collibri Foundation.
Energy? • Explaining sustainability to our customers in concrete terms, via our products. And valorizing it, together with the retail brands: that gives me a lot of energy.
Best project? • I’m especially proud that we’ve made some big product categories more sustainable, such as coffee and fish.

With this initiative, we contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Good health & wellbeing Decent work & economic growth Sustainable cities and communities Responsible consumption & production Life below water Life on land Partnerships for the goals