Friday, December 17, 2010

The passion for sustainability at McBride

This week I published a review of the McBride plc Sustainability Report 2009-2010 in
You can download the PDF here. 
McBride is an interesting company, kind of a behind the scenes player, manufacturing private label produces for retail chains, enabling the retailers to compete witth the big-brand-names that are their own suppliers. An interesting dynamic of retailing which seems to be gaining ground in many parts of the world. 

Here are some insights from my review: 
" McBride plc is one of the leading behind-the-scenes players on our supermarket shelves, though you may not know it. They are responsible for manufacturing many of the private label household and personal care products for large retail groceries, supplying, amongst others, all of the top-ten retailers in Western Europe. The business generates revenues of GBP 812 million and employs over 5,000 people at 11 sites in over 20 countries in Europe, Eastern Europe and the Far East. Not a small concern by any means, it is traded on FTSE and has been included in the FTSE4Good index from 2009. McBride is no stranger to sustainability, publishing their 7th report in 2010, entitled "Passionate about Sustainability". There is apparently no shortage of passion at McBride's – their Annual Report is entitled "Passionate about Private Label."
This report packs a punch with a very nice design and clear presentation, especially relating to environmental targets. Overall though, it is rather basic in substance. Right on the very first page, McBride explains their "passion" saying, "We believe that Private Label has an important role to play in the economy". Private Label is indeed an interesting sector, though McBride provide little context about why this is so. Is this important role to do with the affordability of Home and Personal Care products to a wider range of consumers (as private label products are cheaper than branded products), thus enhancing access to hygiene, personal wellbeing and quality of life? Is it about McBride's ability to deliver formulations for a greener economy, supporting a more sustainable retail offering and changing consumer behaviour? Or is it about providing technologies to retailers that enable them to compete with the Unilevers, Procter and Gambles and other super-players of the home and personal care industry, and thereby changing the balance of power in the supply-demand game?

In many ways, the Private Label industry is regarded as an invisible underdog, producing what they are asked to produce with little clout or influence. An example is given in a case study where, in response to heightened consumer concerns about the spread of viruses in the home, J Sainsbury asked McBride to produce an antibacterial cleaner which kills the H1N1 virus. McBride was able to do this on a very short lead-time, thereby gaining Sainsbury's recognition and enabling the retailer to offer consumers an innovative product on a fast timescale. However, lacking any sort of stakeholder engagement review or materiality prioritisation, this report doesn’t really answer fundamental sustainability questions or get to below-the-surface issues. The opening remarks of the Chief Executive Chris Bull confirm that "we remain aligned to the evolving need of our customers and our markets", but the report doesn’t elaborate on how these needs are ascertained or what they actually mean. On a positive note, however, McBride has been active in the development of the AISE (sustainable cleaning) charter, an industry association of private label manufacturers with a certification scheme, which is an important sector initiative.  

Let's hope that McBride passion for sustainability will translate over time into a broader view of their company's impacts, rather than a list of the things that they do. As it stands in this report, the focus seems to be on developing solutions that customers require, with focus a on greener products and improved eco-efficiency, staying close to sustainability aspects which immediately reduce costs (energy, packaging reduction etc) or are highly regulated (health and safety). The company is clearly getting to grips with the basics and this report demonstrates a positive direction but, as with my weekly household laundry, there is always so much more to do. "

You can read the full review here.

The McBride's sustainability website is a nice one, with flashing pics of employees saying how much they love to work at McBride. No matter how corny this seems, I think it's nice, and adds credibility to the corporate voice. Most people like to see their name in lights. 

Anyway, now I have a dillemma. If McBride's start to make Chunky Monkey as private label, what would I buy ? Oh dear... decisions, decisions ......


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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