Weetabix was established in 1932 in Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire in England. This factory is still their main production site, although Weetabix is now owned by USA-based company Post Holdings. It is now one of the most popular British breakfast cereal brands, which is why I was interested in reviewing their efforts to be sustainable. Overall, I found that they are not transparent about the origins of the cocoa used in their chocolate products. I also suspect greenwashing as they don’t offer details on the manufacturing process.
The cereal biscuits are mainly made from whole-grain wheat, with sugar and chocolate. It is then fortified with nutrients like iron, folic acid, and niacin. All of the wheat is farmed within 50 miles of the factory in Burton Latimer, Northamptonshire. They have two other manufacturing facilities (both in the UK). Since the UK labour laws are generally good, and the wheat farmers have formed a group (the Weetabix Growers group), the company can improve wheat traceability to ensure that the suppliers are abiding by the environmental and labour guidelines. This decreases the likelihood of any forced labour or non compliance with environmental regulations.
Weetabix is not open about where exactly they source the cocoa they use to make the chocolate in their products. The only piece of information available is that all their cocoa is UTZ certified sustainable. This is not enough, in my opinion, because Weetabix is much more transparent about their sourcing of wheat, probably because it is locally produced. They should, therefore, have data about their cocoa suppliers as well. This could be a sign of greenwashing.
Weetabix does not use any GMO crops as ingredients for their products. This is good as it discourages herbicide resistance and it avoids genetic modification companies from having monopoly on the crop seeds.
The packaging is a cardboard box inside which there is a plastic bag with the cereal inside.The box is recyclable, but the recycling of the film is location dependent. The plastic bag is recyclable if the consumer takes it to a large retailer, who will recycle it with the other plastic bags. This is because most local councils cannot recycle the material. Weetabix has taken the responsibility of making these more recyclable. They aim to make 99% of their packaging (across all products) ‘widely recyclable’ by summer 2022. They plan to reach 100% by 2025. It is great that they are so close to their goal; it would be great if they hit 100% before 2025.
Weetabix doesn't provide any detail on the manufacturing and processing of their cereal. The general production of wheat biscuits starts with mixing the whole grain with salt, sugar, malt extract and cocoa. The vitamin fortification is also added here. This mixture is then steam cooked and then milled (the whole grain is crushed to a finer material). Any extra chocolate chips are added and then it is then pressed into shape and cooked again. The process does not generate much waste (any wheat that is unsatisfactory can be used for animal feed).
They do not provide us with information about the processing of the cocoa beans bought but this process is longer and involves fermentation of the beans. This is disappointing as they have goals to reduce water usage in their factories so it would be helpful if consumers knew the manufacturing process to see for ourselves at what points they are actively trying to reduce water usage/waste generated.
Overall, the process is energy intensive. The process can be made more sustainable by using renewables. Weetabix has been using 100% of the purchased energy in factories from renewable sources (solar,wind,or water). This energy is purchased from small, independent energy generators in the UK. The company they purchase the energy from (Smartest energy) is audited by the Carbon trust, increasing the faith the company and the consumers have that this purchased energy is fully generated from renewable sources. 75% of the energy they use is generated on-site while 25% is purchased. The energy generated on site is by a Combined Heat and Power plant, which uses the heat from electricity generation instead of a boiler. Although this does lower carbon emissions and fuel usage, the fuel used to generate electricity is not described, so we must assume it is from fossil fuels. Therefore, the majority of energy used is most likely from non-renewables. I would like to see them generate their own energy using renewables (eg: using solar panels or windmills) in addition to purchasing it.
They give no information about which countries the cocoa suppliers farm in, or what they do on top of buying from certified farmers to help their local communities. They should also themselves verify if the conditions on these farms are good for workers, to ensure there is no child labour etc. There are also various tiers of UTZ cocoa classification based on traceability. One of these tiers allows cocoa to be certified if only 50% of it comes from sustainable sources (the mass balance type traceability). Weetabix does not say exactly what type of traceability their cocoa falls under. So up to 50% of the cocoa they buy and use in the products could be coming from unsustainable practises and unethical working conditions. In my opinion, this lack of detail is deliberate because they could say that their cocoa is not fully sustainably sourced (although certified) and have targets to increase the percentage that is sustainably sourced or in a more traceable criteria.
The wheat comes from around 300 farms located within 50 miles of their factory in England. These farmers are part of the Weetabix Growers Group, as described earlier. Weetabix communicates regularly with this group, engaging directly with the farmers. This benefits farmers as they know more about the supply chain and they get a premium from Weetabix. Since the farmers are in constant communications with Weetabix, they’ve built a relationship and the farmers themselves feel proud to work forWeetabix.This practice is great and is a big advantage of sourcing locally. So it is even more disappointing to see that they do not do this for the cocoa farmers, especially as cocoa farming has more issues with unethical labour.
Although this product does not contain palm oil, three of Weetabix cereal bars do. They do not provide a justification of using palm oil (as opposed to alternatives that do not cause deforestation). They are a member of the RSPO (Roundtable on sustainable palm oil) so the palm oil they purchase is certified by this organisation. However, they do not provide any detail on the type of traceability certification of the purchased palm oil. The most lenient criteria allows for 50% of the palm oil to be sourced unsustainably and mixed with the sustainably sourced oil, while the whole batch is considered certified. This means up to 50% is coming from unsustainable sources. I also think the lack of detail is evidence of greenwashing.
Overall, I am disappointed with the lack of transparency which translates as greenwashing. The level of transparency given for wheat sourcing is great, especially the work they do with the farmers, so it is concerning how Weetabix seemingly does not do this for the cocoa and palm oil farmers, even though these farms are more likely to have issues with child labour and envirnemntally harmful farming practises. Although the UTZ and RSPO certification help increase trust in the ethical sourcing of ingredients, I would expect Weetabix to do more to engage with the cocoa and palm oil farmers and their communities.