Published on: September 22, 2022
This summer Unilever announced the launch of a $120 million venture to scale and commercialize plant-based alternatives to palm oil and fossil-derived cleansing ingredients. Partner in this venture is US-based biotech company Genomatica. “While palm oil will remain an important feedstock to Unilever, these alternative ingredients can play a growing role in diversifying supply chains to drive optionality, sustainability, cost efficiencies and transparency”, their joint press release reads.
Over the past years, the number of companies developing lab-grown alternatives to palm oil has increased. Investors are eager to put millions of dollars into biotech companies that are on a quest to find technology-driven, plant-based alternatives for an ingredient that meets so many commercial demands. With lab-grown palm oil replicas helping to control costs and supply chain risks it is no surprise that the industry embraces the innovation.
There is a huge market out there and this next gen oil makes commercial sense considering palm oil’s versatility. But what will this development mean for the millions of people depending on palm oil for their livelihood?
Jennifer Kaplan, director sustainability at New York based C16 Biosciences, mentioned during a call that: “It is my aim to find a solution for the planet, not against palm. I know palm is a highly versatile ingredient and an important staple for many people, yet we need to stop further deforestation.” Holland based startup No-Palm Ingredients also claims it is about the planet first and foremost: “Palm oil is simply everywhere. Producing a palm oil alternative brings the highest potential demand in the market”, explained Lars Langhout, CEO at No-Palm Ingredient.
Reaching beyond 19%
With so much interest in food tech, where does that leave the investments in that other “next gen palm oil”? Palm oil that is sustainably produced, creating benefits not only for the planet but also for the millions of farmers and their communities that depend on it for their livelihoods. Are we also willing to pour millions of dollars into accelerating the uptake of sustainable practices in palm grown in tropical soils?
I am a big proponent of food tech innovation, yet I believe we should put more efforts into transitioning the way we grow our crops on our lands. We have hardly seen the percentage of sustainably certified palm oil move beyond 19% of global palm oil production. Yes, production worldwide is growing, which means the available volume of certified sustainably produced palm oil increased. But accelerating beyond this 19% has been a challenge for years.
As palm growers worldwide have shown, palm oil produced with respect for people and nature exists. We can scale up its production when the market is willing to reward this innovation as well. But unfortunately, people have learned to reject palm oil. The horror stories in the media positioned palm oil as a villain, regardless of how it is produced.
Sustainably produced palm oil is a next generation palm oil too. So is Palm Done Right. We need to invest together, to make this the norm in the market.
In my upcoming blog posts, I will dig deeper into the five promises of Palm Done Right: 100% organic, fully traceable, deforestation-free, wildlife, fair & social. I will explain what they mean, why these are so important and how we make sure farmers live up to those promises. Stay tuned!
Written by Monique van Wijnbergen, Natural Habitat’s Sustainability & Corporate Communications Director and spokesperson for Palm Done Right.
Tags: Next Gen Palm Oil
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