Flora Plant B+tter Spreadable

overall rating:

1.1

planets

Rosie Schofield
7/10/2022
No items found.

Whilst Flora appear to be doing great things for plant-based foods, and they certainly produce hugely popular and tasty plant-based spreads, I feel really sceptical about their approach. If they really care about what they claim to, i.e making plant-based food accessible to improve the health of people and the planet, their focus would not have been on bringing out new plant butters. Yes the new products are 100% plant based and in biodegradable packaging. But they are significantly higher in saturated fat and more expensive than Flora’s existing products, which remain in the same plastic packaging, and with extremely similar ingredients, probably a similar taste. Why not re-design your original products to be packaged more sustainably? Why ADD buttermilk INTO one of the original products if you truly believe plant-based foods are the way forward? Are they actually just plugging into a trend and a growing audience of environmentally minded consumers to whom they can market a product. 

What it's made of:

1.5

The new Flora Plant B+tter is, of-course vegan, approved by The Vegan Society UK. Dairy cows emit a high amount of greenhouse gases and place pressure on natural resources including freshwater and soil, so providing the consumer with a vegan alternative to butter is positive sustainable action. The ingredients are also “100% natural”, with no artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives, giving the consumer a less processed, potentially healthier product. The ingredients are listed as: plant oils (sunflower, coconut, rapeseed), filtered water, seasalt (1,1%), fava bean preparation, plant-based emulsifier (sunflower lecithin), natural flavourings, colourant (beta-carotene). According to Flora, the product has 50% less carbon footprint, requires two thirds less land and half the water to produce when compared to dairy butter, which is great ! There life cycle assessment states that the
carbon footprint of 1 kg of Flora Plant B*tter Spreadable UK on the UK market is 5.1 kg CO2eq, whereas the impact for dairy butter is 18.1 kg CO2eq per kg of butter.
I thought it would be useful to compare this new Flora plant b+tter to their original plant-based spread ‘Flora 100% Natural’. The ingredients are incredibly similar with Flora 100% Natural containing = plant oils ( sunflower 1%, palm1, rapeseed, linseed), water, salt 1.35%, faba bean protein, plant based emulsifier (lecithin), natural flavourings, vitamin A. A notable difference is the replacement of palm oil with coconut for the new butter which is positive as palm Oil is associated with deforestation and habitat loss. This is however not the case in the Flora Plant B+tter blocks which are also part of the new range, which contain palm oil from sources certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), though the effectiveness of such certifications has been questioned. The other difference is that the original Flora spreads had added vitamins, here vitamin A, whereas the new Plant blocks do not. This nutritional depreciation is evident in the nutritional information ) that demonstrates that per 100g the new Flora Plant B+tter has double the amount of saturated fats and over 100 extra calories.

I then compared this with the UK's two leading butter brands (according to Statista), Lurpak and Anchor, which showed that nutritionally the new block has the same saturated fat content as traditional butter, and significantly higher than the original Flora plant-based spread. Flora could argue, as it does on its Healthy Living Blog that “swapping butter for butter alternatives in your weekly shop is a good idea”, based on the nutritional information for its original plant-based spread. This blog also points out that “All around the world, health experts recommend that you should reduce your intake of saturated fats”. So they are actively arguing that lower saturated fats are better for your health on one site (‘Flora’), whilst offering a product for sale (Flora Plant B+tter) with double the saturated fats of their original spreads and the same saturated fats as dairy butter on their other site ‘Flora Plant’. Confusing ! Their Flora Plant Sustainability page is even titled “Good for you and for the planet: the benefits of a plant-based diet” but conveniently doesn’t elaborate on what part of the new plant-based butter they are advertising is better.
An argument that could be made is that the blocks are intended to replicate dairy butter and so the fact they have similar nutritional stats just reflects that. But I feel it is misleading to the consumer when the main brand Flora market themselves as supportive of ‘healthy living’ and of a plant-based diet for health benefits.

The new blocks are packaged in 100% paper parchment that is fully biodegradable, reducing the environmental impact of the product ! Flora are also transparent about the fact they aren’t recyclable because of the current UK&I recycling infrastructure. By making the new packaging biodegradable and therefore disposable in general waste, Flora have put as little pressure as possible on the consumer to be responsible for Flora’s environmental impact which really is great !
The original Flora tubs and lids, still in use for other Flora products, are made of “widely recyclable” plastic. In the main Flora FAQS it reads “As a responsible brand, Flora cares about the environment and the planet…We are constantly looking for ways to make our packaging even more sustainable and we hope to be able to continue to improve our packaging sustainability in the future.” My main question here is, why they can’t just transfer the biodegradable tub they have introduced for Flora Plant B+tter to their pre-existing product range. The ‘ways to make our packaging even more sustainable’ they claim to be ‘constantly looking for’ are already available … on their other site…on extremely similar products just branded to be ‘sustainable’ and marketed to an eco-conscious consumer.  

A price comparison on tesco also demonstrates that the new Flora Plant range is also significantly more expensive than the original Flora spread.
I really appreciate the aspects of Flora’s products that are distinctively sustainable - selling a number of tasty, plant based spreads, accessible to the entire public, the new completely biodegradable packaging for the new blocks, the removal of palm oil. But making their new vegan product significantly less healthy and more expensive for the consumer, and not carrying sustainable packaging opportunities over to their existing products seems to completely clash with the sustainability and health conscious company they seek to portray. Is the new Flora plant b+tter just an opportunity to sell to an increasingly eco-conscious consumer, whilst ensuring they maintain their principal, mainstream consumer base with their existing products?

How it's made:

0.5

There is a lack of transparency surrounding the exact supply networks involved in the production of the Flora products, besides that Flora products are ‘produced in the UK’ and Flora Plant products are ‘produced in the EU’. Upfield, owners of Flora, are applaudibly highly transparent on their palm oil and paper (packaging) sources, supplying company policies and detailed list of the suppliers they use on their website. They also supply a grievance tracker relating to grievances raised around their palm oil supply chain and how they have dealt with these. For this new Plant B+tter range Flora have had peer-reviewed comparative life cycle assessments conducted by environmental consultancy firm Quantis in 2020, to analyse the production of plant based fat spreads i.e. FLORA PLANT B+TTER. The study found that compared with dairy butter in the UK, production of plant based fat spreads has significantly lower climate impact. It should be considered that amongst the 7 authors of the study were Upfield Research and Development employees Monique J. W. Gerichhausen and Yvonne Bruggeman, and Unilever Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre employee Giles Rigarlsford (Unilever formerly owned the spread brands now owned by Upfield, including Flora). The findings of the study relating to the higher environmental impact of dairy compared to non-dairy products do however correlate with other scientific research that supports vegan diets as climate change action.
There is, however, a lack of specific detail on where the products are made and the methods, and greater transparency would increase Flora’s rating here, as I simply don’t know whether the production is sustainable or not.

Who makes it:

1.2

Flora is owned by a company called Upfield. According to their website their purpose “is to make people healthier and happier with nutritious and delicious, natural, plant-based food that is good for you and for our planet” with their 4 main goals outlined as : “Plant-based - Helping 1 billion people choose our delicious plant-based products. Healthier Lives - Positively impacting 200 million lives with access to affordable and healthy nutrition. Happier People - Enhancing the livelihoods of 140,000 and reaching 5 million chef’s to enable Generation Plant. Better Planet - Better than Net Zero and 95% plastic free! We are pioneering products that preserve nature.” Upfield appears to be taking a number of really positive steps for helping our environment, supporting a number of plant-based companies including turning VioLife into a global brand. They also have a number of product sourcing policies, Human Rights and Modern Slavery Act Statements, and ESG reports accessible on their website.
However I can’t find any information specifically on Flora’s employees, or their working conditions, so there is a lack of transparency around that.
My main issues relate to the track record of Flora surrounding their plant-based marketing. Here is a brief timeline of events: In March 2019 Flora announced they were becoming a 100% vegan brand for ‘health and wellbeing’ and the planet and that their products ‘now taste better’ for it. Promoting veganism in this way is great! As part of this in July 2020 Flora launched their new Flora Plant B+tter, with Upfield UK & Ireland marketing director Catherine Lloyd quoted as saying “We believe we need to change the way we impact the planet’s health now.” and that consumers can do “their little bit to help the planet” by switching to Flora Plant. However by October 2020 Flora had completely back-tracked, announcing that they were adding Buttermilk back into Flora Buttery, making it no longer vegan, while their social media still celebrated their ‘commitment to plant-based alternatives’.  There was huge backlash from the vegan community with a 20,000 signature petition and the news circulating online. In response Damian Guha, general manager of Upfield said “Our overarching goal is to encourage everyone to adopt a plant-based diet. However, having listened to a significant number of consumers who miss the familiar taste of buttermilk in FLORA Buttery, some customers are not ready to join the plant-based journey yet and are seeking an alternative product.” In my opinion the market is full of ‘alternative products’ that contain dairy.

To summarise there are three main points to this review. Firstly Flora do produce tasty and popular vegan spreads that are accessible to non-vegans, promoting a plant-based diet and therefore sustainability. Secondly, however, there is a lack of transparency around their production and employees that is evident in the lack of detail about their supply chain in this review. Finally they brand themselves heavily as plant based, sustainable and healthy and yet they have made a number of moves that throw into doubt their sincerity, notably the high saturated fat and elevated price of these new vegan butters, the continued use of plastic packaging on some products when they have a biodegradable alternative actively on sale on other products, and the re-addition of dairy to a popular, vegan product whilst claiming to promote a plant-based diet. I fear the new Flora Plant B+tter range is a green-washing campaign that repackages their existing products in more sustainable packaging, at a higher cost, in order to dupe the eco-conscious consumer into paying more for a very similar spread that’s worse for their health.

Sources:

https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/news/flora-launches-new-vegan-butter-block/
https://www.statista.com/statistics/301909/leading-brands-of-butter-in-the-uk/
https://new.lurpak.com/en-gb/products/lurpak-spreadable-slightly-salted-250g/
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/flora/products/flora-original
https://www.anchorbutter.co.uk/butter/
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/floraplant/sustainability/carbon-footprint
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11367-019-01703-w
https://quantis.com/
https://upfield.com/brands/
https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/search?query=flora&department=Milk%2C%20Butter%20%26%20Eggs&viewAll=department%2Caisle&aisle=Butter%2C%20Spreads%20%26%20Margarine
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/flora/faqs
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/flora/healthy-living/in-the-kitchen/a-healthy-butter-substitute
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/floraplant/faqs
https://upfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Human-Rights-Statement-2021.pdf
https://upfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Modern-Slavery-Statement_final.docx.pdf
https://upfield.com/purpose/better-planet/better-packaging/
https://upfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Our-sustainable-palm-oil-sourcing-policy.pdf
https://upfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Mill-list-for-publication_March2022.pdf
https://upfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Grievance-tracker-March-22.pdf
https://upfield.com/purpose/better-planet/responsible-sourcing/
https://www.flora.com/en-gb/floraplant/sustainability/good-for-you-and-for-the-planet
https://www.veganfoodandliving.com/news/flora-launches-new-vegan-butter-block/
https://vegconomist.com/food-and-beverage/backlash-in-the-uk-as-upfield-de-veganises-popular-spread-flora-buttery/
https://www.change.org/p/flora-keep-dairy-out-of-flora-buttery?recruiter=70872079&recruited_by_id=4f4d6640-03db-4814-9074-0a8b5f93794a&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard
https://plantbasednews.org/lifestyle/flora-adds-dairy-back-flora-buttery/
https://www.greenmatters.com/p/does-sustainable-palm-oil-exist