Heinz Tomato ketchup has been in production since 1876, originating in Pennsylvania, USA. It is now a global household brand name, with products like mayonnaise, soup, and beans. I chose to review this product as I have personally used their ketchup for as long as I can remember so I was interested to see how it ends up on our shelves. The 910g bottle is £3.00, making it one of the more expensive ketchup brands.Their slogan on the ketchup bottle is “Grown not made” and they claim that no GMOs or artificial enhancers were added. However, they provide little detail on the supply chain and exactly how they plan to make the production more environmentally friendly and ethical.
The ketchup itself is made of tomatoes, spirit vinegar, sugar, salt, spices, and celery. These tomatoes are planted and harvested from California (USA) or Spain. They are then processed and transported to Wigan, UK for distribution. A hot, sunny climate is more suited to tomatoes, however, the carbon footprint for importing metric tonnes of ketchup from the USA is significant. I could not find any information about methods of transportation into the UK, but once in the UK, it is distributed via railroads, which does not create as many emissions. It is also not made transparent what fraction of the tomatoes come from Europe (as opposed to the USA). These tomatoes have been selectively bred since 1934 but not genetically modified. The ketchup itself does not contain artificial flavours, preservatives, or thickeners, which is better for sustainability because we save the energy and water that would go into synthesising these substances. There is no information about where Heinz sources its spices and celery for the ketchup.The exact spice mix used is confidential, but it would be good to provide consumers with some clarity on its origins or processing. As it stands, there could be significant environmental costs in the processing and shipping of these spices.
The bottle is made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) which is currently widely recycled in the UK. However, the plastic lid is not currently recyclable. Kraft has announced that it has developed a new lid for the bottles which would make all the packaging 100% recyclable. This new bottle will start being produced in 2022 (Europe only). Hopefully, they are able to produce these bottles globally and we see this type of packaging used in similar products as well.
The tomatoes are grown on irrigated fields to avoid water wastage; however, it is unclear what specific method is used. Heinz has said that they encourage drip irrigation (it is the least wasteful) but they do not elaborate on its actual usage in their fields. They are picked and processed within 48 hours. Any produce that is not satisfactory is composted or used for livestock feed. The tomatoes are flash cooked at 96 °C, strained and reduced into a paste. It is then heat treated and sent to the processing facilities. Spices are added and it is then packaged and distributed. The production tries to minimise waste and since the processing occurs within two days of harvest, the quality of the product is maintained. However, they do not provide data on pesticide use, only that they try to use “minimal” amounts of pesticide. Overuse of pesticides have contributed to the decline in bee populations, so I am disappointed that they have not told consumers their plan on tackling this issue. Overall, the process is lacking some details needed to classify it as sustainable.
Heinz has attempted to reduce waste by using high-yield farming technique, which is energy intensive, but data seems to suggest that the overall emissions per mass of produce is lower in high yield techniques, although it is not conclusive. This technique uses a smaller area of land to get the same amount of produce, so it could lessen the impacts of habitat destruction.
Heinz requires its suppliers to meet the labour laws of their respective countries (preventing child labour, prison labour etc). The USA and Spain have strict labour laws in general, minimising the risk of unethical labour contributing to this product. Heinz also has laid out its sustainable aims (using renewable energy, decreasing waste in landfills, decreasing water and electricity use etc). They also have goals for employment diversity and animal rights. In their 2021 ESG report, all targets for 2022 have been achieved. Almost all the other targets are for 2025, for which they have self-reported that they are on track to achieve them. Heinz requires suppliers to monitor emissions and waste disposal, but no comment was made on how these claims have been independently verified. They aim to have 100% sustainably-sourced tomatoes for the ketchup by 2025, but there is no detail provided on which part of the process is unsustainable and exactly what they are doing to achieve the target.
One of these targets was to purchase 100% of palm oil from sustainable sources by 2022. Although there is no palm oil in this ketchup, it is used in other Heinz products. Heinz has been part of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) since 2007 and requires its suppliers to follow their guidelines for ethical palm oil production. However, a 2016 report by MightyEarth states that one of Heinz’s suppliers (Olam) only produces 1% of its palm oil on its own plantations, so 99% comes from undisclosed third-party providers, making it impossible to know if the palm oil comes from forced labour or deforestation. This report was created using data from field investigators and satellite image data on Olam’s fields in Singapore and Gabon. This calls into question if their other claims of achieving targets are true or not.