Frylight extra virgin olive oil is a cooking spray made in Britain by MH Foods, owned by Saputo. According to Sapputo, Frylight is the most popular oil brand in the UK, with 17 million bottles leaving their factory every year and used by one in four UK homes. The popularity of the product emphasises the need to evaluate and review the sustainability of Frylight because the collective impact of this commonly used product can be very large-scale if the company undertakes any unsustainable practices. When I recently bought Frylight, I assumed that it would be a sustainable and convenient alternative to bottled cooking oil because the spray bottle gives us more control over the quantity of oil we use. But is Frylight really sustainable? Despite demonstrating efforts in improving the sustainability of their packaging, the lack of transparency was an apparent concern, leading to an overall score of 1 out of 3.
This Frylight product contains extra virgin olive oil (51%), along with water, alcohol, natural flavourings, sunflower lecithin, and xanthan gum. Water is a key ingredient used to help make the oil thin enough to be used as a spray without using a pressurised container. The sunflower lecithin in the product acts as an emulsifier (helps water and oil mix), and xanthan gum acts as a thickener. Their ingredients contain nothing artificial and no animal or dairy products, so the Frylight was successfully approved by The Vegan Society and The Vegetarian Society. This should not come across as surprising or unconventional since most mainstream oils are plant-derived products. However, their ingredients and spray-bottle design make Frylight a lighter and healthier alternative to cooking oil. One spray of Frylight contains just 1 calorie, so consumers can save over 100 calories when using Frylight instead of pouring typical cooking oil. Additionally, Frylight users can use around 95% less fat and calories - using 5 sprays of Frylight per cook (0.5g fat/5kcal) can replace 1 tablespoonful of oil (15g fat/120kcal).
All Frylight bottle parts are 100% recyclable except for the pump, which is concerning because the thin and small pump could easily be ingested by wildlife and be broken down into microplastics if the waste is not processed correctly. Even though most parts of the product are recyclable, Frylight bottles are non-biodegradable, so the packaging can still end up in landfills and oceans if the recyclable parts are not recycled properly. It is essential to consider that many consumers do not recycle plastics which eliminates the benefits of the product's recyclability. Frylight aims to use at least 30% recycled content in their packaging by 2023, but their current proportion of recycled content and progress is unknown. The lack of transparency regarding packaging materials raises questions of what the spray bottles are made of and how they are made. I hope to see Frylight improve its transparency and aim for a greater proportion of recycled content to achieve circular packaging in the near future!
To Frylight's credit, they removed their large cap in 2017, which they claim to have impressively saved 120 tonnes of plastic waste per year. This emphasises how small changes to the product design can really make a drastic improvement to a company's resource consumption. Additionally, Frylight's spray-bottle design should be recognised as a sustainable option for oil products. Switching from regular poured oil to cooking spray reduces the amount of oil used for cooking, which subsequently cuts the number of products bought by consumers. In fact, Frylight claims that their 190ml bottle can last around three times longer than just 1 litre of poured oil. It is evident from my own experience that switching to cooking spray saves oil - when I used bottled cooking oil, I often poured too much oil and had to throw away excess oil. Considering that reducing is preferable over reusing or recycling (because reducing will reduce the amount to be reused or recycled in the first place), the spray-bottle design should be recognised as a sustainable alternative to traditional bottled products.
The extra virgin olive is made by the mechanical pressing of olives. “Extra virgin” means that the olive comes out from the first pressing of olives. Strangely, Frylight or MH Foods or Saputo do not mention where they source their olives. Saputo is a dairy company, so they are very transparent about their sourcing and partnerships with farmers regarding their milk production but there were no mentions about how their other ingredients are sourced, including olives. Frylight is oddly a non-dairy product owned by a dairy company, but this should not stop Saputo from disclosing its sources of olives and other non-dairy ingredients! Frylight is also not transparent about how its ingredients and products are transported, so the environmental implications of transport cannot be deduced.
Around 35% of their water is pumped from aquifers, and the rest of their water is pumped from rivers. Since Frylight production uses 8 million litres of water every year, the impact of their water withdrawal of local water supply can be concerning, especially in downstream areas of the river. Sunflower lecithin is derived from sunflower seeds which are crushed and treated at a high temperature. Water is then added under low pressure to make the lecithin become hydrophilic (attracted to water) and lipophilic (attracted to oil), which allow their sunflower lecithin to become a successful emulsifier. Alcohol is used in the product to prevent bacterial growth. Their alcohol is made by mashing up sugar beets with water, adding yeast, and then going through distillation. Finally, xanthan gum is collected and dried to be used as powders in their factory. All of these ingredients are then mixed together by blenders in their manufacturing kitchen and packed at their factory near Liverpool.
The mechanical and energy-consuming processes are very prominent from above, from heating to distilling to blending. This raises the question of where their energy in the factory comes from. Unfortunately, the energy sources they use are also not published, which raises concerns about their greenhouse gas emission, especially if their factories rely entirely on non-renewable energy. Considering the popularity of Frylight, using clean and renewable energy in manufacturing can make a big difference in our greenhouse gas emissions and ecological footprint. I hope to see more transparency regarding their energy usage and commitments towards improving their energy consumption and source.
The information on the product disclosed by Frylight is quite minimal. As mentioned before, they do not publish where their ingredients are sourced from, where their manufacturing energy comes from, and how their products/ingredients are transported. Their lack of transparency regarding their supply chain is definitely a concern, especially since the product undergoes mass production and is widely used in the UK. Frylight mentions on their YouTube video that “As a company, we are determined to be as environmentally friendly as possible”, so I hope to see them demonstrating this in a transparent manner. Saputo also mentions on their website that they “aim to reduce the impacts of our supply chain on the environment” by reducing the CO2 intensity of their operations by 20% and their water intensity by 10%. Although these aims show commitment to improving environmental sustainability, they do not disclose how they will achieve this, which makes me sceptical about the feasibility and achievability of their commitment. Like mentioned before, Saputo’s information on sourcing is mostly related to milk. As a company that also owns Frylight, a non-dairy product, I believe that they should be transparent about their non-dairy ingredients as well.