Since 1978, Kettle Brand has created many chip flavors to grace the tables at countless parties, and remains an iconic game-day snack food. Kettle Brand chips can be found in nearly every grocery and gas station store, in flavors such as Sea Salt, Backyard Barbecue, Parmesan Garlic, and Sour Cream and Onion, all of which are categorized under their Classic flavors. They also offer a variety of Krinkle Cut and Organic chip flavors, and sell variety packs of chips, providing a diversity of tastes to cater to the population of snackers craving a crunchy, salty bite to pair with a dip or a sandwich. They’re gluten-free, and Non-GMO verified by the Non-GMO Project. As a household staple in my family, Kettle Brand chips are always kept in stock in my pantry. I sincerely believe 90% of my diet in college consists of their Sea Salt and Jalapeño chips. Upon reading the back label and claims of “less waste with the same great taste,” I took it upon myself to see if these chips were as good in sustainability terms as they were on the taste buds. Kettle Brand is notably one of the companies attempting to reduce their carbon footprint, as they advertise on all their chip bags that they launched an initiative to use 43% less packaging, cutting their overall annual greenhouse gas emissions by half and preventing nearly 2 million pounds of plastic from reaching landfills. However, their website does not detail their progress nor describe how they reach these goals. Their practices and manufacturing methods are relatively sustainable, and their level of transparency in terms of sourcing and ingredients is admirable. Their display of the potato farms they source from provides valuable information in how they utilize their ingredients, and their sourcing from such farms supports sustainable farming methods and practices. However, they only list information on where they source their potatoes, and not their other flavoring or frying ingredients, providing some but not all of the vital information. In terms of employee welfare, their initiatives to promote a healthy lifestyle and give back to their community is an excellent example of a sustainable workforce. Their parent corporation also describes many projects that help employees give back to their community and establish environmentally-friendly initiatives, like discussing their impact on climate change and their goals to mitigate their carbon footprint. Kettle Brand’s parent corporation also details an entire webpage on a 2021 corporate responsibility report and trust within their products, providing the transparency that we encourage others to display. Next time you are looking for chips for a party or afternoon snack, Kettle Brand chips might be the ones to consider!
As advertised, Kettle Brand uses potatoes to make their chips, which are an important cash crop and are utilized in a variety of dishes and snacks. In the United States, potatoes are considered to be one of the most sustainable crops to harvest, due to the farming methods regulated by the United States potato industry. As per U.S. regulations, all potato farmers practice sustainable farming methods, such as crop rotation, compost usage, and the growing of cover crops. Constant monitoring of irrigation systems ensures that potato fields are watered well, but also that water is conserved and evaporation is reduced. Using GPS (Global Positioning Systems), potato farms are able to practice precision farming techniques to maximize energy usage and distribution, reducing the farm’s consumption of energy, water, and other resources. In order to guarantee the “all-natural” claim to describe their potatoes, farmers use restricted quantities of fertilizer and pesticides. Kettle Brand sources their potatoes from farms all across the United States, drawing from about 28 farms in total. They boast an “all-natural” ingredient list, staying away from using chemicals and preservatives consumers cannot pronounce. Depending on the chip flavor, their other ingredients can include sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, garlic powder, chili powder, cheese powder, etc. to flavor their chips. They state that they utilize genuine food ingredients and authentic recipes to flavor their snacks, including their Classic flavors and some of their more exotic ones, like Korean Barbecue. However, the information about where they source their flavoring ingredients is not provided. Does this imply that their flavoring ingredients are unsustainable and they’re trying to hide it, or did they simply forget to include information about it? Their simplest potato chip flavor, Sea Salt, has only three ingredients listed on the Nutrition Facts section: Potatoes, Vegetable Oils (Canola, Sunflower, and/or Safflower), Sea Salt. Vegetable oil is tricky in that it is not one pure oil, but is made of multiple different oils, so the sustainability of each must be evaluated. Kettle Brand uses vegetable oil composed of three oils: canola, sunflower, and safflower. Canola oil can be sustainably sourced, especially when organic, as cold-pressed or expeller-pressed canola oil harbors no egregious environmental issues. However, if not cold- or expeller-pressed, canola oil requires the usage of hexane, a harmful chemical air pollutant. Though hexane is not detrimental to the environment, it poses a serious health risk for employees working with it. Sunflower and safflower oil production are considered relatively sustainable as long as an excess of pesticides are not applied, and regenerative methods are practiced.
In the United States, potatoes are grown in nearly every state, but only about a third of the number is consumed fresh, due to their starch content. Harvested potatoes spend about 4 months in temperature controlled environments, preventing their starch from converting to sugar, which would ruin the potato. Typically, temperature controlled environments (like freezers and heaters), are large consumers of energy. If the energy was from a renewable source, like solar or wind power, this fact may be considered sustainable, but Kettle Brand should be more transparent about it. After this period, the potatoes are then transported to a factory, where they are washed, scrubbed, and sliced by machinery. They are then washed again, in order to remove the starch, and then dropped into hot oil to fry. The water within the potato steams, and the space taken up by the water in the potato is replaced by oil, giving the potato chip the iconic crisp and crunch. After being fried, the potato chips are drained of oil and then flavored with various seasonings and sauces, then packaged in bags and delivered to various warehouses across the country, then sent to grocery stores, where consumers purchase them. While the process to make a single potato chip seems simple – dig up a potato, wash it, slice it, fry it, then bag it – each step requires more resources than a casual consumer might think about. The machinery to power-wash and slice the potatoes takes energy, and the oil to fry must be sourced sustainably. The process to fry a potato doesn’t take as much plastic packaging or waste of resources – oil can actually be reused when frying the same ingredients – but transparency about energy sourcing should be practiced.
Kettle Brand, an American manufacturer based in Oregon, sources their potatoes from American potato farms, all of which practice sustainable farming methods. Many of their farms are family-owned and operated (e.g. Walther Farms in Michigan, U.S.), practice zero-waste initiatives (e.g. Castle Rock Farms in Oregon, U.S.), and utilize clean energy (e.g. Baley-Trotman Farms in Oregon, U.S.). Kettle Brand advertises that all their potato farmers contribute to their chip-making process while also giving back to their community and environment, and it seems apparent that this is a true statement, based on each farm’s individual biography on the website. However, a few of their farms do not provide information on location and farm history. Kettle Brand also has an informative “Tater Tracker” to allow consumers to observe where their chips’ potatoes are sourced from, and how they travel across the States to be delivered. This transparency in delivery and manufacturing allows consumers to really know where the ingredients are coming from. But, because Kettle Brand chips are popular internationally too, carbon emissions for international packaging and transportation should be considered. Kettle Brand’s ingredient tracker could work in a country like the United Kingdom, but the distance and transatlantic trip would most likely require freight ships or air transport. So, American consumers can consider Kettle Brand to be a national sustainable snack, but customers in China should probably find an alternative.
Kettle Brand’s parent organization is the extensive and well-known Campbell Soup Company, which manages countless other popular snack brands. Campbell has launched quite a few implementations in order to promote sustainability within their brands, and lists their progress on their corporation website. Campbell Soup has detailed initiatives in which they partner with food kitchen organizations to support the neighborhoods where their employees live and work. They have also listed on their website their goals for community service and donations, aiming to improve school lunches for children, encourage healthy living, and increase food access for thousands of employees. They seem to promote a healthy and diverse community of workers, fostering the health, wellbeing, and happiness of their employees.