A bowl of Dorset Cereals Muesli with a splash of rice milk is breakfast for me on most days. At a first glance, the mueslis seem to be the perfect products for the conscientious consumer: there is a short list of recognisable ingredients, they come in recyclable packaging and they taste great. Having become a frequent consumer of Dorset Cereals (also referred to as simply “Dorset” in the rest of the review), I was keen to do a deeper dive into their products to see just how good their sustainability credentials really are.
All of the Dorset Cereal products use non-GMO ingredients. Although the exact figures aren’t clear, it seems that Dorset source a significant proportion of their ingredients locally (in 2012 80% of ingredients were sourced locally but there has been no update since). The base ingredients for their products are grains and grain derivatives. According to Dorset, the “majority” of these grains are grown and processed in the UK. This is not the case for the rest of the ingredients they use. Dorset say that they rely on imports for the dried fruit and nuts they use because there is very little of the ingredients produced in the UK.
When it comes to assessing the health profile of a breakfast cereal, the first thing that I look for is for any form of sugar as one of the ingredients. The sugar content of Dorset Cereals has been a bone of contention with the Charity Action on Sugar group and surveys in 2012 and 2017 highlighting the high sugar content of Dorset’s products and complaining about their lack of traffic light labelling (the labels on the front of packaging that detail the sugar, fat and energy contents of a product and are labelled green, yellow or red depending on the amount of each they contain). This campaigning has been successful. Of the 10 muesli products that Dorset offer, 9 of them now contain no added sugar and they range between 8.1g and 24g of sugar content per 100g (most are in the late teens). Another win for consumers was Dorset’s parent company – Jordans Dorset Ryvita - in 2020 setting a goal of employing traffic light labelling on all of their products by the end of 2021 (although they have not reported on this target yet and the cereal that I have purchased from Dorset this year still doesn’t have traffic light labelling). Their products are also certified kosher and suitable for vegetarians and in most cases are vegan too.
In this section, Dorset score decently on their environmental sustainability. Their packaging is excellent with the cardboard box that their cereals come in is FSC certified board and is fully recyclable, while the plastic bag inside the box is recyclable in roadside bins in UK districts where plastic bags are accepted for roadside collection and in large stores that collect plastic bag recycling in other districts. When it comes to their ingredients, however, a lack of transparency when it comes to how they source their ingredients prevents them from scoring full marks on environmental sustainability. The farming of many grains can be environmentally intensive and depends on the practices employed by the growers. For example, the amount and type of fertiliser used can make a large difference to emissions with an estimated 43% of the greenhouse gas emissions from wheat farming attributable to the use of fertiliser. Other farming practices can also lead to losses in biodiversity and excessive deforestation that have other environmental impacts. To this end, it would be great to see Dorset Cereals join their sister brand Jordans in becoming a member of LEAF, a sustainable farming certification body in the UK promoting sustainable farming practices and regenerative agriculture (the Jordans and Ryvita company are listed as corporate members of LEAF on their website but it is unclear if after the merger, Dorset’s sourcing is also LEAF certified. On the Jordans Dorset Ryvita website only Jordans are listed as supporting LEAF).
There isn’t a lot of information available on the manufacturing process that Dorset Cereals go through once they have sourced their ingredients, however, in conjunction with the other brands in the Jordans Dorset Ryvita group, they have achieved some impressive environmental markers. By streamlining their manufacturing processes, the group has reduced their CO2e emissions by 22% since 2015 and has been a zero to landfill business across all of their sites since 2012.
In 2018 Dorset moved their factory site from Poundbury to Poole (both towns are in Dorset). It should be mentioned that in 2019 Dorset Cereals had a recall of one of their mueslis because it contained almonds, hazelnuts and cashew nuts that were not mentioned in the ingredients list although this could potentially be put down to issues with moving factory.
More information on the manufacturing processes that Dorset as well as their portion of the contributions attributed to Jordan Dorset Ryvita in the ABF annual report would be appreciated and could allow for an increased score in this area.
To set up a bit of the scope of this review, it should be mentioned that Dorset Cereals is a brand owned by Jordans Dorset Ryvita company, who in turn are owned by Associated British Foods. Associated British Foods are a British multinational company specialising in food processing and retailing. They are the second largest producers of sugar and baker’s yeast and own multiple brands in addition to Dorset Cereals including Twinings. Dorset Cereals have maintained their strong connection to the county of Dorset. Their products are still produced locally at their new factory in Poole with a largely local community of staff who commute in from various towns around Dorset. The company support the Woodlands Trust, a conservation charity in the UK that have planted close to 45,000 trees in the last 10 years on account of the support received from Dorset Cereals, with 1,000 in Poundbury, Dorset – the town in which they had their original factory. Jordans Dorset and Ryvita, along with many other MNCs have also joined the Fair Labor Association of Turkey’s “Harvest the Future” initiative which aims to improve the recruitment and employment practices of seasonal workers in Turkey. There is an influx of tens of thousands of seasonal workers to Turkey’s agricultural regions each summer and these workers have historically been open to exploitation by opaque recruiting practices and harsh working conditions. There is still, however, a general lack of information on the social impact and working conditions required to source the rest of their ingredients and manufacture their products (for example free trade certifications) and this transparency is necessary if Dorset Cereals’ score is to improve in this section.