Home: Issue 3 2008 › Cover Story › A common voice
A common voice
02/07/2008 | Channel:
Frozen, Manufacturer, Ingredients
Libbie Hammond spoke to Jean Martin, president of the CIAA, about uniting food and drink companies across Europe
The Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EEC (CIAA) describes itself as 'the voice of the European food and drink industry'. With a membership comprising 25 national federations, including two observers, 28 European sector associations and 20 major food and drink companies, the association's mission is to represent the food and drink industries' interests at the level of European and international institutions. The objectives of the CIAA include contributing to the development of a legislative and economic framework addressing the competitiveness of industry, food quality and safety, consumer protection and respect for the environment.
Jean Martin was elected president of the Confederation in November 2002, and in October 2006, he was re-elected for a third mandate. With 40 years experience in business including many years at Unilever, he has a unique understanding of the challenges facing food and drink companies. He told me that he still loved the industry after all this time. “I have been in the industry since 1978 so if I didn't like it I would be a very sorry guy,” he laughed. “It is a fascinating industry and it is always willing to be flexible and to adjust to what consumers want, and ultimately it is the consumer who drives us.”
Jean explained that the objective of the CIAA is to create an environment where its member companies, of all different sizes, can compete successfully for profitable growth, as well as meeting consumers' needs and playing their part in delivering the targets set by the Lisbon declaration of the European Council - that is, to become the most competitive economy in the world by 2010. “We work with national federations, sector associations and big businesses and we look both within the EU and outside the EU as well,” he said. “We believe that the CIAA represents the whole of the food and drink industry in the EU, because in one form or another, every European food company is a member, either directly or indirectly via a national federation, or a sector association, which in turn is a member of the CIAA. So we represent something like 250,000 companies, with over 90 per cent of these being an SME. Alongside these smaller companies our members also include the biggest food and drink companies in the world; this creates a very valuable combination.”
He continued: “The CIAA has a team of 23 highly competent people, and one of our main strengths is our credibility - when members call us or refer to our information, they know that they can trust us and that the material will be up-to-date and reliable.” Business Europe - then 'UNICE' (Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe) originally set up the CIAA in 1982 to replace their 'Commission of Food and Drink Industries'. Since then, the CIAA has become a favoured partner of European and international institutions, thanks to its longstanding work on issues such as nutrition and health, novel foods, labelling, agricultural policy, international trade matters, sustainable development, respect for the environment and enlargement.
“The 'raison d'être' for the CIAA's existence is because our member companies find it useful to have a vehicle in Brussels that can communicate and promote the collective view of the food and drink industry,” explained Jean. “On some issues, of course our members are in competition with each other, nevertheless they believe that there are superior industry interests that are common to everyone and that are better managed collectively.”
The work of the CIAA involves consultations with European and international institutions on food-related developments and its permanent secretariat, based in Brussels, co-ordinates the work of more than 700 experts, grouped together in committees and expert groups around three themes: food and consumer policy, trade and competitiveness and the environment. “Food and consumer policy covers a number of very important topics like food quality, food safety, consumer issues and the need to improve the diet,” explained Jean. “For example, we consider food safety an absolute pre-requisite for everything we do - our food has to be safe. Of course, it has never been as safe as it is today, but you cannot totally exclude an occasional incident. Our objective is to reach zero incidents; we are working towards that goal.
“In the area of healthy eating we fully support the Commission's 2005 initiative to establish a European Platform for action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health as a forum for stakeholders to share best practice and develop action plans to tackle the increase of lifestyle-related health problems and, in particular, of obesity.
“As a founding member of the Platform, we were committed from the beginning to voluntary measures to improve the information provided to consumers on packaging. One of our most ambitious commitments was the launch of a common Nutrition Labelling Scheme, recommended for use by the entire food and drink sectors across all 27 member states of the European Union. We recommend that our members use a common Nutrition Labelling Scheme that will be applied and monitored by member companies and federations on a voluntary, self-regulatory basis. Implementation of this improved labelling programme began in EU markets in 2006 and continues today. The results of this scheme have been spectacular and by the time the Commission has published and implemented its regulations I predict the whole of Europe will already have embraced the new voluntary system. This is a very good example of how self-regulation can be fast and effective.”
In the Trade and Competitiveness segment, the CIAA has one basic aim - to ensure a level playing field on which all companies can compete. This means that the association supports a single market for consumers, where their freedom of choice is guaranteed by harmonising consumer protection measures at a European level. The CIAA also supports the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of food and drink products across the EU.
When considering international trade, the regulatory framework that emerges as a result of bilateral and multilateral World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade agreements must ensure the competitiveness of the European food and drink industry, both on the home and international markets.
“With a turnover of 870 billion euros, the European food and drink industry is a major force - it employs over four million people, and is the world's largest exporter of food and drink products, exporting goods with a value of over 52 billion euros in 2006,” explained Jean. “We know that the European food and drink industry is a world leader in terms of market share and we want to keep and develop this position. We were very pleased with the European Commission's decision last year to set up a high level group, whose task it is to review the competitiveness of theEuropean food and drink industry, and propose conditions that enhance this competitiveness. We are very hopeful that this group will come up with a number of suggestions, especially in the regulatory area, which are going to improve the competitiveness of the food and drink industry.”
The environment is increasingly becoming a top priority for the food and drink industry in Europe and Jean confirmed that this is an area that he has seen grow in importance during his time at the CIAA. “The industry is fully committed to ensuring sustainable development and to continuously improving its performance in the field of the environment,” he commented. “Major progress has been achieved in reaching EU objectives in terms of recovery and recycling of packaging waste, and also the CIAA is endeavouring to define the BAT (Best Available Techniques) for its sector.” These BATs aim to prevent and reduce pollution in an integrated, economically viable way. CIAA also takes environmental impact considerations into account throughout the entire food chain. Jean continued: “We support the work group that is deciding how to communicate with consumers on environmental considerations, and create a message that is serious, responsible, meaningful and consistent across Europe.”
Part of the remit of the CIAA is to publish literature to inform members, EU and international organisations and consumers about its activities and achievements. For example, it publishes a newsletter, regular updates on industry positions regarding specific issues, press releases and brochures. The association also puts together a lot of research documents, and one of its most recent publications was the 'Data & trends of the European Food and Drink Industry' survey that was published in early 2008. A comprehensive review of the European food and drink industry, the report highlights various areas of interest, one of which is innovation. Jean commented: “Quite honestly I believe that the European food and drink industry is still leading the world in innovation. However, this being said, we are aware that as an industry we are not spending enough on research and development.”
According to the report the food industry is in the lower part of the innovation performance ranking. “The European food and drink industry is spending just about 0.2 per cent of its turnover on R&D, the US is spending about 0.4 per cent, Australia just over 0.4 per cent and Japan 1.2 per cent. It is a top priority for us to improve our performance,” said Jean. In order to address this, in 2005 the European Commission introduced the concept of European Technology Platforms. With the backing of CIAA, the European Technology Platform 'Food for Life' addressed the requirements of the agro-food industry in Europe. The document describes the vision for 2020 and provides a firm basis for the next stages of consultation, discussion and debate leading to a Strategic Research Agenda and Implementation Plan. “We believe the European Technology Platform will most effectively organise and deliver innovation, enhance the impact of EU R&D development, create competitiveness and deliver tangible benefits to the European consumer,” said Jean.
Alongside industry research, the CIAA, via its member companies, also does a lot of consumer research. “We are very proactive, because it is what our consumers expect,” said Jean. “Regulators do not drive the industry, consumers do, so our members spend an enormous amount of time and money on consumer research, to identify what is it that consumers want now and more importantly, what they will want in the future. This is driving the industry, because to be successful you need to take research outcomes and create something that can be put on a shelf in a shop and sold at a profit. That is true innovation, and to do that you have got to understand what is it that a consumer wants.” Jean noted that the obesity epidemic, R&D issue and the increasingly demanding consumer were all important challenges going forward, but also that they offered tremendous business opportunities. “We need to be able to seize these challenges and turn them into business opportunities,” he concluded. “If our R&D resource can lead to marketable innovation, then I think that we have an enormous scope for growth, and I am very optimistic about the future.”