Conversation on sustainability with a major beverage player, spanning consumption methods, technical innovation, packaging design, recycling. Open dialogue with Cristina Miele, Director of Administration, Finance and Control of Ferrarelle.
M. Costanza Candi
It is not a brand that needs any introduction in Italy, but it is worth remembering that Ferrarelle is the fourth Italian group by volume in the mineral water sector, owner not only of the brand of the same name but also of Acqua Vitasnella, Fonte Essenziale, Boario, Natía, Santagata and Roccafina, bottled in two factories, located in the north and south of Italy: Darfo Boario Terme (Brescia) and Riardo (Caserta).
Their location constitutes an essential piece in the corporate strategy based on sustainability, a concept of which Ferrarelle – as a Benefit Company – is the bearer, expressing attention to organizational well-being, the territory and the environment.
Cristina Miele, Director of Administration, Finance and Control , speaks about the company and its vision, where packaging plays an important position , introducing a reflection on the role of the consumer in the dialogue with companies, in a process of osmosis where collaboration between those produces and those who purchase push towards ever higher goals.
« The consumer is more educated every day and attention to sustainability increasingly includes climate, nutrition and the environment, guiding business strategies and consumption methods that are attentive to the social and human dimension » begins Cristina Miele . « On the other hand, it is expected that all this will not lead to price changes, because the consumer, although attentive to the issue, is not willing to pay more. On the packaging front, then, there are differences between the various sales channels, which influence the choices of the producers themselves. Thanks to the new sensitivity and good habits of the Italian consumer, the majority of bottles purchased from large-scale retail trade, for example, are disposed of and disposed of correctly, becoming a resource.
But the same cannot be said of the Horeca channel. In this case, the greater difficulty linked to correct disposal, combined with the growing attention on the issue of sustainability of the actors involved, such as large railway carriers, beach establishments, commercial activities such as bars or restaurants, influence the choice to use bottles with material recycled up to 100% in order to compensate for the limitations of post-consumer management. »
The long tradition of attention to green issues, as well as the constant dialogue with the market, allow Ferrarelle to guide consumers towards increasingly sustainable choices: on the one hand, the company collects input and stimuli, and on the other indicates a clear direction .
In this regard, Cristina Miele continues:
« We have implemented projects aimed at primary schools, very focused on recycling. In the past, we have involved children in the creation of labels for the half-litre Ferrarelle water bottle, while we will involve children in courses aimed at promoting among the new generations a civic sense that is more attentive to the environment and biodiversity and to place emphasis on the awareness of their role in recycling paths, which become economically and environmentally sustainable thanks to collective action, born from the collaboration between consumers and producers “.
Ferrarelle has long invested in technological innovation, packaging eco-design (with particular attention to latest generation materials) and recycling.
« And these are considerable investments – continues Miele – in particular on solutions capable of optimizing energy and resources, on better performing materials in production, on new systems capable of greater efficiency, without forgetting transport logistics, the management of which is essential to significantly reduce emissions.
In fact, it should be remembered that sustainability is a question of the supply chain, which includes every piece of the chain, from the supplier of raw materials to delivery up to the end of life, taking into careful consideration that transport, with its impact, can frustrate the efforts in other directions. This is why, for example, we are part of a pallet exchange circuit, avoiding unnecessary empty returns and also containing emissions in our logistics chain, without forgetting that the two production hubs, located to the north and south, favor optimized management of transport “.
The role of large players in accelerating virtuous processes is increasingly recognised, given the volumes handled and a corporate organization that allows the pursuit of long-term objectives. This is why Ferrarelle believes it has a strong steering role with respect to its suppliers, without defining stringent parameters that would exclude local players, to the advantage of entities capable of meeting the requirements in terms of certifications and process sustainability.
This attention to the territory and its harmonious development also falls within the framework of the responsibilities of a Benefit Company, an aspect on which Miele comments:
« Ferrarelle is not yet a BCorp but is currently a Benefit Company. Today, asking local suppliers to adhere to our model would be difficult, because it would exclude a share that we are helping to grow. We therefore apply rigid internal policies, but we select suppliers without imposing equally rigid schemes, but instead pushing them towards increasingly sustainable choices .”
Ferrarelle has been drafting the Sustainability Report for years and has adapted the procedures to the most stringent reference regulations, while the impact report is published with the financial statements, responding in every way not only to the aforementioned legislation but also to the normally required requirements to BCorps, with a section dedicated to suppliers and the requirements that are required to be gradually achieved.
A rigorous management that has its roots in the choice of a material of choice, PET, for which Ferrarelle has developed a packaging design path, based on recycling and recycled materials.
« The main material for us is PET, the recycling initiative started in 2015 as the design of the new plant built by Ferrarelle in Presenzano (CE). Here we initially produced preforms with virgin PET and recycled plastic for non-food use to then reach the food sector, even exceeding the needs of self-consumption, which allowed us to sell the material externally. Becoming producers and recyclers meant acquiring all the necessary certifications including EFSA and achieving compliance with national standards, to open a path that allowed us to use up to 100% recycled plastic in our bottles. At a later time, the plant was acquired by a supplier, who is still our point of reference because it assures us of the quality that we contributed to building .”
Ferrarelle therefore offers the market a range of 100% rPET bottles for bars and restaurants, where, as mentioned, recycling is more complex and requires compensating with a more sustainable material. For supermarkets and large-scale retail trade, here are the bottles with at least 50% rPET, which the consumer can provide by correctly differentiating, especially in a country with recycling percentages above 80% like ours.
Direct production has allowed the company to develop research processes that combine sustainability and design, finding qualified solutions in terms of materials and percentages of recycled material to be used, to finally arrive at packaging design.
The Campania company’s strong propensity for recycling cannot help but raise a question about the Packaging Directive, a topic on which Ferrarelle has a strategic vision totally based on measuring the impact of different management methods, be it recycling or the logistics chain.
« Plastic is indispensable for its product protection qualities and food safety » specifies Miele. « But, for the horeca channel, we also use glass as a fully recyclable material, which is brought back to our production site to proceed with re-bottling. It goes without saying that, in terms of impact in a sector like ours, for the logistics that require the movement of empty trucks, reuse is not advantageous and for plastic, impossible.
In 2022 we bottled more than 1 billion liters, which offers a measure of how much impact reuse of the bottle on volumes of this scale would have on emissions. We therefore believe that the correct path lies in the constant increase in recycling combined with saving logic, acting on materials and lightening packaging, while still preserving its aesthetics and stability. These are issues on which Ferrarelle invests in R&D for the development of ever new materials and solutions which today allow us to have an entirely recycled bottle, in PET, chosen because it is the most recyclable of materials, ideally infinitely circular. We therefore believe that there is no need to demonize plastic but to encourage its collection, a trend on which the Italian consumer is not only prepared but also convinced and attentive, given that he has been doing it punctually and consistently for years.
In our opinion, recycled material is therefore a resource and an asset: constantly improving its management becomes a priority on which we have taken a clear direction that will not change. In fact, we are increasing the references made with recycled material as well as the percentages of recycled material itself, because we believe that reducing the consumption of virgin plastic is a correct choice and recycling is the best solution to reduce the impact of production on the environment .”