It’s amazing how ubiquitous mint is as a flavor in the confectionery industry, particularly in gum, breath mints, lozenges and chocolates. What’s equally amazing is how little confectioners know about this plant, aside from its powerful flavoring capabilities.
Reportedly, there are 13 to 18 different mint species in existence. Long cherished for its healing properties, which include aiding digestion and weight loss, relieving nausea, fatigue and headaches as well as breadth freshening, mint continues to be a key component in every candy technologist’s bench box.
Aside from discussing garden variety mints, the sourcing of this herb typically doesn’t surface to the forefront…until lately. Given consumer interest in sustainability issues, whether it be cocoa or palm oil, mint has also come under scrutiny regarding its origins and harvesting.
As Kim Frankovich, v.p. – global sustainability, for Mars Wrigley Confectionery pulled out some vials for a sniff and see demonstration during a Candy Industry visit to its global headquarters in Chicago, it quickly became clear that the woman knows her mints. It’s critical that she does since 65 percent of Mars Wrigley’s mint and gum products use mint. Moreover, it dovetails nicely with the company’s Sustainable In A Generation goals.
Upon sniffing the various mint oils, it became clear there were flavor and aroma subleties amongst the oils that most consumers take for granted, but never experience. Olfactory and gustatory sensations aside, today’s consumer also wants to know where certain commodities come from…and how.
Frankovich, who’s headed the company’s AdvanceMint program for the past four years, recognizes not only the different characteristics behind different species, she’s knows who and how harvests the mint, be they commercial farmers in the United States and Canada or small stakeholders in India.
Given that 80 percent of the world’s mint supply comes from India (the United States and China are the other major growers), Frankovich found herself making more than a few trips to the land of diversity. Known as Shubh Mint in India — shubh means auspicious or glorious in Hindi — the program focuses on helping mint farmers in Uttar Pradesh, the largest producer of mint in the world.
Working in conjunction with Agribusiness Systems International (ASI), the Shubh Mint program sought to accomplish two primary goals: 1) reduce input costs involved with planting, growing and harvesting mint; and 2) increase yields.
It’s been a “four-year journey,” Frankovich says, determining what the needs of the farmers were as well as “what was happening on the ground.” As one would expect, it’s critical to build trust as well as offer practical and measureable solutions before farmers agree to commit to change, regardless whether it’s in India or in the United States.
Consequently, Frankovich and her team first compiled a compendium of good agriculture practices tied to growing mint, taking advantage of published tracts, particularly those from the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (CIMAP) based in Lucknow, India.
“We took all that information and narrowed it down to 10-12 best practices,” she explains. “We then identified four to five sweet spots.”
Game plan in hand, the Mars team took their program to farmers, doing 2,500 “engagements” to get their message across. The interaction and engagement lead to fine-tuning the sustainability effort down to three points: good cultivars (new root stocks developed by CIMAP); planting techniques founded on good agricultural techniques; and water conservation.
This process, which has taken three and one-half years to implement, is now showing results. Of the 2,600 farmers enrolled in the program, yields have increased by 68 percent while costs have been reduced by 23 percent. Water usage has dropped by 27 percent.
The goal is to have 20,000 farmers embrace the Shubh Mint approach by 2021, thus doubling incomes from mint and reducing water use by one third.
There’s also a community development aspect that’s an integral part of the program.
Shubh Mint has created 200 new women’s self-help groups as well as supported community development centers/libraries in villages that volunteered to contribute to the cause.
Mars Wrigley’s sustainability efforts aren’t just focused on India, Frankovich points out. There are also ongoing efforts in Canada and the United States involving cultivars, carbon emissions and land grants to fund soil mapping efforts involving drone and GPS technologies amongst other tools.
During this process, Frankovich stressed that it’s important to remember sustainability programs are a “two-way engagement,” which requires bringing the right partners to the table.
“Whether its small stakeholders [like farmers in India who typically have one-acre plots] or professional farmers, we need all of them to thrive and succeed,” she says.
Mars Wrigley’s initial success with the Shubh Mint program was built on a patient, persistent and very professional approach to obtaining results. Unlike the many “sound bites” we come across today, this one has staying power.