Weetabix Food Company produces cereals that are staples at many British breakfast tables. From Alpen, to Weetos, Ready Brek and its namesake Weetabix brand, the company claims to be not only the UK’s ‘number one selling’ but also ‘most trusted’ and ‘most recommended’ cereal.
Indeed, with sales of £180.9m in 2019, according to Nielsen Scantrack data Weetabix is the UK’s 41st-biggest grocery brand by value in the country, ahead of the likes of Quaker, Mars and Mr Kipling.
With trust so central to the 88-year-old brand’s identity, the group – now owned by US food maker Post Holdings – is perhaps unsurprisingly focusing its sustainability strategy on four areas that consumers have increasingly come to identify with. Namely: packaging, efficient operations, sustainable ingredients, and health.
Plastics in focus
Over the course of this year, Weetabix has reduced the plastic used to package its brands by 6% and 92% of its packaging is now ‘fully recyclable’, according to the company’s second sustainability report.
Plastic reduction was achieved thanks to ‘smaller wrappers’ for Alpen Light bars, a move the company said saved 24 tonnes of plastic per year. It also removed 28% of the plastic in Weetabix wrappers, saving a further 102 tonnes of plastic annually. And, earlier this year, Weetabix On The Go redesigned its bottles to make them 100% recyclable. The brand also moved to a clear PET bottle made from 30% recyclable plastic.
The company has set itself the goal of doing more to cut the impact of its packaging. 2021/2 will see the use of fully recyclable plastic in Weetabix and Alpen. By 2023, it wants Weetabix to be plastic free.
John Petre, Supply Chain and Technical Director, explained this staggered approach is necessary to balance the desire to reduce plastic use and other issues, including safety, quality and waste.
“Minimising the impact of packaging is a challenge as any changes need to ensure the quality of the product is upheld and that we don’t create more food waste. At present we haven’t found a plastic free wrap that is able to meet our requirements, so we will continue to roll out our recyclable Weetabix wraps in the new year and continue to work on ways to safely completely remove plastic,” Petre, who leads the Weetabix Sustainability Steering Group, told FoodNavigator.
“We are working with different technologies and suppliers in order to achieve plastic-free packaging. The key here is finding the right balance between reducing our packaging and keeping food fresh for its entire shelf life. Any compromises here create the risk that food will be wasted. Since food waste is considered a contributor to carbon emissions and environmental damage, our concern is always to balance packaging innovation against that risk.”
The company is also ‘on-track’ to reduce the carbon footprint of its packaging by 20% next year. “A key part of our low-impact packaging pillar is to continue our progress towards 100% recyclable packaging by 2025 and to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our products. This will support our aims to further reduce our carbon footprint in the years ahead,” Petre explained.
Beyond plastic, Weetabix revealed it has reduced the carbon footprint of its Weetabix boxes by 22%. The new boxes will launch in 2021.
It isn’t just in packaging that Weetabix wants to address its environmental footprint. The group is also working to cut the amount of resources used by its own operations.
“Our ultimate goal is of course to align with the government’s commitment to reach Net Zero [carbon emissions] by 2050 – this would be across scopes 1, 2 and 3 [of the supply chain from sourcing to consumption],” Petre noted.
The company has mapped its carbon footprint in a study that will be used as a benchmark to set and measure future reduction targets. “Our Carbon Footprint measures all 3 scopes and is being used to benchmark CO2 reduction targets,” Petre explained.
Efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations are ongoing. For instance, Weetabix completed a £16m investment in a manufacturing line in Corby this year, cutting energy use by 50%.
To further support efficient operations, Weetabix appointed an energy manager this year who is working on one-, three- and five-year plans that will target all resource use, from energy and water to waste. Details are expected to be shared in the group’s 2021 Sustainability Report.
Ingredients and sourcing
Beyond its own operations, Weetabix intends to work with its suppliers to reduce the impact of its products across the supply chain.
While he conceded that this is a more challenging area to make progress in than within the company’s own operations, Petre said that the group’s strong supplier relationships mean it is well-placed to make progress.
“It is of course easier to manage the footprint of our own operations, but we are working closely with our suppliers to see where we can reduce the overall footprint of the supply chain and create efficiencies in our processes in the years to come,” he told this publication.
Many of Weetabix’s ingredients are locally sourced in Britain – and this short supply chain offers sustainability wins. “Sourcing wheat for Weetabix Original from within a 50-mile radius of our Burton Latimer factory is a big deal for us. Working with our Growers Group of local farmers significantly reduces the food miles involved in transporting our main raw ingredient, and it also allows us to work with farmers to establish sustainable farming practices,” Petre said.
This is a message that resonates strongly with consumers, the supply chain expert continued.
“Earlier this year, we commissioned a survey that found that following COVID, almost a third of UK consumers realised how important locally sourced products are to the UK economy, with 48% of Brits actively looking for locally sourced items in the supermarket. We have started to communicate our 50-mile message to consumers much more this year and we see it as an important pillar for us as we continue our sustainability journey and educate consumers on our credentials.”
But, of course, not all ingredients can be locally sourced. Inputs like palm oil and cocoa represent a sustainability risk and, here, the company is turning to third party certification.
The group moved to RSPO certification for palm oil in January 2020, two years earlier than its target. It is now working to reach UTZ certification for cocoa and, Petre said, ‘should be able to confirm this in early 2021’.
Nutrition and health
Weetabix has placed sugar and salt reduction at the heart of its health and reformulation strategy and the group has achieved considerable success in this area.
Weetabix branded cereals already have less sugar than Public Health England’s guidelines and the average sugar in Weetabix products is 26% less than average sugar levels in the category. Since the mid-1990s, the company has worked on reformulation projects that have resulted in a 25% reduction in added sugar and a 60% reduction in salt contained in Weetabix Original.
This has progress has prompted the company to re-evaluate its approach to reformulation. While the company insisted it remains committed to sugar reduction, it is cutting the number of individual sugar projects it carries out and shifting its focus to ‘technology breakthroughs’.
“We are looking at a range of novel technologies that will allow us to develop delicious products that are even lower in sugar, as well constantly evaluating new ingredients and technologies as they become available,” Petre revealed.
The company will continue to work on technical innovation for sugar reduction through 2021 and beyond.