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What does sustainability have to do with apples in a Colombian supermarket?
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What does sustainability have to do with apples in a Colombian supermarket?

Yexpert Stories: Quality and Sustainability Manager Carolina

This time in our series "Yexpert Stories": Carolina Arias Bustos. She is our Quality & amp; Sustainability Manager. What is she doing at Yex in the field of sustainability and quality and how does she combine the two?

What was the first thing that struck me when I arrived in the Netherlands from Colombia in 2009 to follow my true love? It wasn't the windmills. Nor the neatly ordered traffic, which can be quite different 'back home' in Bogota. No, strangely enough, what has stayed with me the most are the apples in the supermarkets. They were all the same! I was dumbfounded. They looked like fake apples. So very different from a Colombian supermarket. Large apples, small apples, apples with brown spots or dents are all mixed in together over there.

How appropriate that eleven years later I should be working on a project with Yex about that very subject: food waste. Those apples in the supermarket look so good - I now know - because we, the consumers, have very high aesthetic requirements. Of course, quality is and will remain extremely important, but every now and then we do go over the top. Fortunately, we are increasingly aware that a passion fruit with a blemish can still taste good, and taste is also quality. Supermarkets listen closely to what consumers want, so we see an increasing variety of shapes, sizes and colours on the shelves.

As a Quality and Sustainability Manager, I look at the entire chain from grower to consumer. From the moment an avocado is removed from the tree, you can no longer improve that quality, only retain it. The better the quality, the less is wasted. That is why I am committed to higher quality and lower waste, as early as possible in the chain. Preferably starting at the grower. Naturally, there will be waste that cannot be prevented. That is why we have joined forces with the Together Against Food Waste (Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling) foundation. We also seek collaboration with other organisations to revalue our leftovers. My ideal is for our chains to be circular so that nothing of value is lost.

Even more important are the people who keep the chains running. Most farmers want to grow sustainably. But it starts with fair prices for their products, so they have the resources to invest in better production methods. By continually being in contact with our suppliers, I get to know them well and hear what issues they face. When purchasing our products, I want it to be about more than just price and quality. I also want to know what their working conditions are, whether they have access to clean water. What the impact of the production is on their environment and community. Taking action together with them energises me.

A frequent topic of discussion is local versus world trade. Our fruits and vegetables are exotic and therefore often come from far away. This trade is full of interesting paradoxes. Tropical fruit from South America usually grows in a climate that promotes the efficiency of production: plenty of sun and water. Growing the same fruit locally would increase the use of fertiliser, water, pesticides and greenhouse infrastructure. Exotic fruits are a delight to the senses and are full of vitamins, minerals, fibre and other healthy nutrients. But what matters more to me is that this is how we can support the economic growth of many farming families. We can make a positive contribution to the transformation of our global food system.

We certainly do not shy away from those big questions. Sustainability is not unattainable for us, even though products come from far away. No, we want to be known as a supplier of a diverse exotic range. And as a supplier with an eye for the people and ecosystems that supply our products. Without concessions.

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