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April 01, 2022

Sitting Down with Fyffes’ Helge Sparsoe to Talk Strategy, Sustainability and Leading through a Pandemic

In July 2020, Helge Sparsoe took over as CEO of our Group Company Fyffes – the largest importer of Fairtrade certified bananas in the world and the biggest melon importer in North America. We spoke with Sparsoe about taking the helm of this produce supply giant in the midst of a pandemic and the other challenges of his position.

What has been your biggest leadership challenge as Fyffes’ CEO so far, and what have you learned from of being a CEO during a global pandemic?

The greatest challenge I have faced as CEO of Fyffes is no doubt the global pandemic itself. Like many international businesses, we are facing greater supply chain friction due to the measures being put in place by governments to keep people safe from COVID-19. As we are seeing in many markets, input costs are also rising due to shortages as the world ramps back up to a more normal supply and demand pattern. None of this is unique to Fyffes but to become CEO of a company during this period was challenging.

Fyffes is a people business. We employ thousands of people in Latin America who are responsible for growing and harvesting our fruit in excellent condition. In our logistics and shipping we employ people who are responsible for ensuring the right volume of bananas, pineapples, melons and other tropical fresh produce, reaches their destination at the right time, meeting the incredible demand from consumers who focused more on health and nutrition during the pandemic. In our consumption markets, we rely on people who ripen, distribute and market our produce and keep the supermarket shelves stocked and now, thanks to the opening up of society, to the wholesalers who sell to hotels and restaurants.

In a people business, the most important thing is to keep people safe, so that is the first challenge I would like to call out. I have been really impressed by the way our leaders stayed ahead of the government guidelines in local markets, providing testing kits, PPE and introducing social distancing and sanitisation. I am humbled by the response of our employees everywhere who have embraced those measures and rolled up their sleeves when the vaccines became available. 

One of my first tasks was to get to know the business. Instead of visiting my colleagues and seeing the businesses first hand, we had to rely on virtual engagement, which is never the same as face to face. My priority was to implement a new strategy for Fyffes, including the introduction of our five values; respect, energy, win together, thrive and integrity. Instead of getting all the leaders together to work on this, we had to meet virtually over a number of workshops. 

In recent months, as restrictions have eased, I have been able to visit more of our businesses, both in Europe, the US and Latin America. I really value the face-to-face contact – nothing beats sitting down with your team and having lunch together to forge a closer working relationship.

Creating alternative applications for Fyffes’ core products helps reduce waste production. How did this idea come about? 

Food loss (post-harvest) and food waste (once it reaches the supermarket shelves) contribute about 
7% to global greenhouse gases that result from the wasted energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport and package food. Food that ends up in landfill produces methane which is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As a food production company, we have set a target to reduce food loss in our business by 80% by 2030, in line with the UN Sustainable 

Development Goal 12.3 which aims to reduce food loss and food waste globally by 50% by 2030. 

Tackling food loss is not just an environmental or ethical issue; we want all the nutritious fresh produce we grow to be sold and consumed, as it is intended. We will work on improving our logistics and planning to reduce as much as possible any unnecessary food loss. But we also acknowledge that some food loss is inevitable, for example due to storms or hurricanes. Our sustainability team, along with the global sustainability steering committee which has representatives across the company, developed the idea of finding new applications for our core products bananas, melons and pineapples. Our first focus area is bananas. In Belize we have partnered with the Government to provide a fortified flour made from locally grown Fyffes bananas that will be used in a school feeding program at Our Lady of Bella Vista School which is close to our farms in the Stann Creek and Toledo district. These neighbourhoods have high prevalence of malnutrition, which can negatively impact on a child’s learning potential at school and contribute to other health issues. We have a target to develop one new application for each of our core products by 2030.

To speak broadly, what are your goals in terms of Fyffes’ future?

Our new vision ‘shaping wellbeing for the world’ places sustainability and shared value with our growers and customers as our focus. We will do this by placing the consumer at the heart of everything we do, investing in ground-breaking innovation to set us apart and relentlessly striving for operational and organisational excellence. Without values there is no strategy, and earlier this year I was delighted to announce our new company values, which were developed based on feedback from our employees, customers, and senior leaders. Our values guide us in how we conduct business, and these are: Respect, Win Together, Thrive, Energy and Integrity. My priority is to enable and empower our people to help deliver on that vision by articulating a clear strategy and putting in place the right supports and structures so that we can bring this vision to life and help everyone at Fyffes feel valued for the contribution they make to achieving this vision.  

Aside from our strategy and sustainability goals, I am concentrating on putting in place the right frameworks and putting the right people in place. I have put together a new executive leadership team to help implement the transformation we need to deliver on our vision to shape wellbeing for the world and become a world-class company.

Fyffes received the Certificate of Sustainability from Logistics Partner CHEP

In late 2021, Fyffes received the Certificate of Sustainability from logistics partner CHEP. This recognition is the result of an analysis that measures the reduction of various environmental impacts due to the use of shareable and reusable CHEP pallets to transport millions of boxes of our fruit around the world. Through these combined efforts, both companies achieved significant savings in the operations of bananas, pineapples, and melons between July 2020 and June 2021. This achievement goes hand in hand with Fyffes Global Sustainability Strategy and the company’s efforts to continuously reduce its carbon footprint throughout its operations and supply chain. CHEP serves as a global leader in managed, returnable and reusable packaging solutions, serving many of the world’s largest companies in sectors such as consumer goods, fresh produce, beverage and automotive. CHEP’s service is environmentally sustainable and increases efficiency for customers while reducing operating risk and product damage. 

Above, Fyffes staff accepting the CHEP Award