Originally published as part of a longer article in the August 2011 issue of Drinks Business.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has been certifying Mediterranean cork forests since 2005, and by 2010 the certified area had reached nearly 72,000 ha, out of more than 2.5 mha of Mediterranean and North African cork oak landscape.
Certification means cork oak growers can supply to cork stopper manufacturers traceable cork planks from forests certified to adopt landscape-sustainable practices. Part of this sustainability includes forest regeneration to prevent the landscapes from eroding.
Vera Santos, the executive director of FSC Portugal said “Portugal has around 52, 000ha of cork oak forest FSC certified. It is expected that by August this year, the FSC certified area of cork oak forests will reach 90,000ha [due to] a new FSC group certification and some new members joining existing groups.” She added “the target is to have 150,000ha certified by the end of 2012.”
In Spain, some 30,000 ha of mixed forests, including cork forests, have been certified.
Across the two countries there are also some dozen cork manufacturing companies that are certified by FSC to produce FSC-certified products, for example cork stoppers. Amorim have been at the vanguard of FSC certification, but even for them it’s a tiny proportion of their total stopper production, about 10 million FSC stoppers out of 3.2 billion stoppers in total. de Jesus said with FSC there “could be as much as 20% more cost” and what started with single piece natural cork stoppers – the traceability and chain of custody was manageable – now includes technical stoppers and those made from cork particles such as sparkling wine stoppers.
As recently as a couple of months ago [sub – the timing of this comment is correct for August publication] the manufacturers of diam stoppers “applied for FSC certification, which should be available by the end of this year” said their vice president of marketing, Bruno de Saizieu. But, he added “demand is not huge, today it’s less than 1%”
Clem Yates, winemaker and product technical manager for Sainsbury’s, said “own label wine accounts for one third of the wine range at Sainsbury’s and of that I would say 40% of those wines are under cork. We are already the world’s largest purchaser of FSC corks and use over 6 million corks per annum.”
Environment clearly plays a role in decision making. Yates said “At JS, one of our core values is sourcing with integrity. This helped us decide to move all our own label cork stoppers to FSC.” This is a work in progress, initially moving existing cork stoppers to FSC cork.
Over at the Co-op, Ian Rogerson, their technical manager for beverages, said “As a business, we’re committed to using more sustainable packaging. The Co-operative has moved a large number of its own-brand wines with cork closures to FSC cork. We are trying to move as many suppliers as possible to FSC, on our own labels.”
He suggested supply had been a limiting factor, saying “When FSC closures first came on market, they were initially only available at very top end of the market”, i.e. single piece cork. He said that regular level stoppers, and technical stoppers only became available about two years ago, adding “the quantity of FSC material available is now beginning to increase, so opportunities to pursue this option are becoming greater.”
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