‘Too little, too slowly and too non-committal’, put Jumbo’s sustainability policy on the back burner

To take on29 Jul ’22 06:03Author: Emma Wouters

‘Too little, too slowly and too non-committal’, is how supermarket chain Jumbo’s sustainability policy is described by experts in the BNR podcast Hoge Bomen. In a sector that lags behind in terms of sustainability at all, Jumbo is in poor shape compared to other stores.

Since 2012, the Questionmark Foundation has used The Green Superlist to investigate the extent to which supermarkets help their customers choose a sustainable diet. ‘Jumbo lags behind in setting goals in protein conversion: a transition from an animal to a more plant-based diet,’ says Charlotte Linnebank, director of the foundation. “That transition is necessary if we want to reach the Paris climate goals.”

Ton van Veen, member of the board at Jumbo, says that his supermarket is aware of ‘great responsibility’ in the area of ​​sustainability. ‘We are constantly confronted with dilemmas: what do we want to achieve from a social point of view, and how do we get the consumer involved, and to what extent do consumers want to control their behaviour?’ For Van Veel, the fact that Jumbo’s biggest revenue comes from non-sustainable products lies with the consumer: ‘because consumers want them. We want to encourage healthier and sustainable options, but there must also be a social will to pay for these products.’

‘false argument’

According to Charlotte Linnebank, the consumer’s lack of choice is a ‘false argument’. She argues that the customers in the store are actually stimulated to go the other way by often putting meat on sale and selling it far below the actual price. With this, we tempt the consumer to keep buying that meat.’

‘We are very easy to influence in our buying behaviour. Consumers buy what’s on sale,’ says the marketing company Unravel Research. ‘The sustainable options are still the exceptions. Unconsciously communicates that: sustainability is the exception, no sustainability is the norm. And people often automatically follow the norm. It is up to the supermarkets to make sustainability the norm. You can already make a difference here without having to do anything about your offer: put the responsible choices in the most important places, i.e. at eye level’.

Also read | ‘Negotiations with Jumbo are a problem’

New law

A law is now being drawn up which, among other things, will oblige supermarkets to be transparent about their distribution chain, confirms the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Member of Parliament for D66, Tjeerd de Groot, explains: ‘If the supermarkets do not reach agreements quickly, I think politics will intervene. Retail trade, processing industry and suppliers must make a very important and non-binding contribution to the transition. The Hague should create a level playing field. All producers, both domestic and foreign, must meet the same conditions’. If this law is passed and enforced, it will have serious consequences for all supermarkets. But that law is not yet in place, and in the meantime the supermarkets are keeping each other in a tight spot with offers.

Also read | ‘The brutality of such a Brabant family business to trump the established order’

Quick decisions

‘Supermarkets may not make price agreements with each other’, says the Dutch consumer and market authority. But there is an exception. If supermarkets together want to take steps to help consumers make more sustainable choices, that is allowed. A unique opportunity for supermarkets to tackle the problems. The Questionmark Foundation therefore organized a round table to bring the supermarkets together. The willingness to cooperate was there, but in practice not much came of it.

Jeroen Smit, business administrator, former professor of journalism and author of, among other things, ‘The Drama of Ahold’, sees opportunities for Jumbo. ‘Jumbo is a company in the van Eerd family, and therefore decisions can be made quickly. Listed companies deal with shareholders. If there is not enough profit for a quarter, they sell their share. This is not the case with Jumbo, they can make their own strategic choices. For example, they can decide to settle for half of the profit and invest the other half in the sustainability transition’. Investing in sustainability is not only a moral, but also a smart choice for the company’s future.

Also listen | All episodes of Tall Trees

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