Nestle chief executive on a £300m energy from waste plant next door, life after Brexit and why he wants to retain ‘diversity as part of our culture’
- Credit: Archant
Nestle Purina’s relationship with the community will play a vital part in determining their position on a proposed £300m energy from waste plant near to their Wisbech factory.
Stefano Agostini, Nestle’s UK and Ireland chief executive officer, refused to be drawn on whether his company would oppose the proposals but re-iterated his commitment to supporting community principles at his Wisbech factory.
“Our relationship with the local community is very important,” he said,
“An important plan of Wisbech is the integration with the community, to share value and we have also done lot of activity in supporting local people through charities and other things.
“In terms of environment, clearly we are very concerned our operation does not affect anything around us; in terms of waste we want to have clean factories.”
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Mr Agostini told me: “We always try to have a very collaborative approach with our neighbours”.
It was vital nothing untoward affected their operation for as part of the food and beverage industry in which we are “it has to be clean; we can’t operate in a polluted atmosphere.”
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He was answering questions put to him by a handful of journalists via Skype and from parts of the country where Nestle has a factory. His Wisbech plant employs more than 600 people and is the town’s biggest employers.
I had challenged the chief executive on whether he would support the widespread opposition to the energy from waste plant that could be built next to his Wisbech factory.
“My question would be – a question the community asks – is whether your company has a view on the incinerator proposals,” I asked him,
“The community would hope it would be a negative view. Do you have a publicly expressed view of the benefit it might bring you or whether you would be one of the reasons why it would not happen because of being right bang in the middle of rural Cambridgeshire?”
Mr Agostini said the question was “very, very narrow, very precise on a topic I cannot give a clear answer so I will come back with a better explanation of our position on that particular topic”.
He later authorised a statement which stated Nestle was “aware that plans are being considered for a new energy from waste plant in Wisbech. We will continue to follow the progress of the project carefully”.
He was more specific on what he termed “contributing to a green recovery”.
He said: “The topic of climate change has been talked about much less in 2020 but that doesn’t mean it has gone away. We need to continue working hard on our targets so that Nestlé is part of a green recovery”.
During the lockdown, they were able to bring online a second UK wind farm to power sites in the UK and Ireland.
And he pledged that by 2025 “we will make all of our packaging recyclable or reusable”.
Mr Agostini said he had recently visited his Wisbech factory: “I came there during lockdown to stay closer to the team”.
On Brexit, the chief executive said Wisbech was a “very particular factory for us; all the time we see lots of proud diversity in the factory in terms of origin and experience and age.
“It is this diversity that makes Nestle different –we want to keep diversity as part of culture”.
He said the company, which employs 20 different nationalities at Wisbech, needed to ensure it continued to have access to the expertise required to operate successfully,
“We have been able to cover all the expertise either locally or from those joining UK with the of opportunity bringing some specific engineering or maintenance skills,” he said.
It was essential for its UK businesses to remain competitive and an important action would be to raise and grow their expertise locally.
Mr Agostini said in those areas of manufacturing where there was a gap, he hoped that possibly through schools and apprentices it would create opportunities.
He said: “We know that there has been a lot of disruption for young people in education or at the beginning of their careers.
“Youth employment is a big priority for Nestlé and we have more than 200 people undertaking on-the-job training as part of our Nestlé Academy in the UK and Ireland.”
Mr Agostini said: “We are finding ways to continue our apprentice and graduate programmes and we were able to support 170 apprentices through virtual training programmes so that they were able to complete their programmes.”
He expected that after Brexit they would “work with government to keep some corridor open to have access to make sure UK still has access to this expertise”.
Without that corridor, he felt Nestle could face “huge disruption we cannot afford”.
Brexit discussions over coming weeks would, he hopes, allow the Government to “understand and collaborate” and work with them to keep his factories competitive.
Nestlé employs 8,000 people in the UK and Ireland and Mr Agostini admitted that 2020 “has been a very challenging year for everybody”.
He said: “Our factories have been operating with strict hygiene and social distancing measures ever since and we are proud that we have been able to continue our manufacturing and distribution throughout the period.
“We have also been able to support the national response to this crisis. We contributed to the food packages created for 1.5 million vulnerable people identified by the UK government and we have supported the British and Irish Red Cross with £250,000 of funding.
“We donated more than £4 million of products to food banks and key workers through the peak of the crisis to help support those who needed it.”
He said: “That first response to the crisis was very important but what we do next might be even more important.
“Companies like Nestlé will need to take action to support a strong recovery from COVID-19.”
Mr Agostini added: “Clearly a lot has changed in 2020 and that will continue. We will have to be ready to adapt our business even further if we want to maintain strong performance and be in a position to contribute to the recovery.
“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to look at how we do things and make changes for the future. I have outlined five areas where Nestlé will take this chance to do things differently to support a strong recovery.
“We will build a workplace that is even more flexible and diverse
“We will adapt our business for the new future.”