New Britain Palm Oil raised doubts over the gloom surrounding sustainable palm oil, its speciality, highlighting "growing" demand for the vegetable oil as the group unveiled a more-than-doubling in profits.
A gathering in Indonesia of leaders in sustainable palm oil, which must be produced to strict environmental and social standards, has come under pressure for a lack of progress, with only about 5m tonnes a year, or 10% of world output, of the commodity meeting the criteria.
Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, minister of plantation industries and commodities in Malaysia, the second- ranked palm producing country, flagged the risk of stagnation in sustainable supplies, which are promoted and policed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
"If the RSPO brand is not strong enough or if it fails to convey the necessary assurances to the market, it would then be like a cleaner that fails to clean," he said.
The RSPO's president, Jan Kees Vis, a Unilever executive, urged governments to assist the movement through differing import duties favouring sustainable palm oil, saying "they should at least consider using tariffs as an instrument to facilitate trade in sustainable commodities".
However, the comments contrasted with comments from New Britain, which said that "the demand for fully traceable and certified sustainable palm oil, together with speciality fats and margarines, is growing".
Food manufacturers, who use the vegetable oil in products from biscuits to margarine, "continue to bring forward their commitments to using traceable and certified sustainable palm oil products".
United Biscuits, the maker of McVitie's Jaffa Cakes and Twiglets, and the UK's largest palm oil user, is attempting by the end of 2011 to use only sustainable supplies.
Indeed, New Britain's Liverpool palm refinery is running at more than 80% of capacity, raising questions about whether further investment will be needed, Agrimoney.com has been told.
Many of the challenges to the take-up of sustainable supplies centre around an inability to trace them from plantation to refined palm oil, and to guarantee that the product is what it claims to be, a person familiar with the company said.
"A segregated supply chain is a big thing. On price, sustainable palm oil is not any more expensive than what is already out there," the source said.
New Britain, which is listed in London but is headquartered in Papua New Guinea, said that its pre-tax profits soared 138% to $209.6m in the first nine months of 2011, on revenues up 67% at $593.7m.
The performance was boosted by the acquisition of Kula Palm Oil besides higher production at its historic estates, and elevated prices.
The group's own plantations produced, at 1.33m tonnes of palm fruit bunches, 28% more in the nine months than during the same period of 2010.
Shares in New Britain, which also counts chocolatier Ferrero, cereals group Jordans and soap-maker Stephenson Group among its clients, closed down 2.4% at 805.5p.