Huel & Other Wellness Brands Join Push Towards Carbon Labelling

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  • Complete nutrition company Huel has released its first-ever Sustainable Nutrition Report to benchmark carbon calories against the nutritional value of everyday meals
  • The move follows the lead of F&B brands Oatly and Quorn to use carbon labels on products to reveal the carbon footprint of their ingredients and production 
  • 50% of CPG growth from 2013 to 2018 came from “sustainability” marketed products (NYU Stern Centre for Sustainable Business), while 8 out of 10 are making sustainability-based purchases, even during the pandemic (Capgemini, 2020) 
  • “We’re now dealing with a more conscious citizen who’s increasingly informed and inspired to act,” says Jessi Baker, founder and CEO of Provenance.org 

LONDON, United Kingdom — Complete nutrition company Huel has become the latest food and beverage brand to call for greater sustainability and supply chain transparency across an industry, which research suggests, accounts for a quarter of all global carbon emissions. 

Following the lead of environmentally-conscious brands including Oatly and Quorn, Huel announced it would embrace the use of carbon labels across its packaging by the end of 2021.

The move follows the release of the five-year-old company’s inaugural Sustainable Nutrition Report, in which it outlines the changes needed to reduce the impact our diets have on the planet and our personal health. 

The report also benchmarks “carbon calories” against the nutritional value of everyday meals, to reveal its complete nutrition shakes produce a fraction of the carbon emissions generated by common wholefood alternatives, while providing far greater health benefits.

Huel & Other Wellness Brands Join Push Towards Carbon Labelling

Image: Oatly

What are carbon labels?
Carbon labels detail the full carbon life cycle of a product, including agriculture, such as fertilisers, manures that emit gases, land conversion that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and livestock digestion, transportation, packaging and food processing. 

Although carbon labels on food sounds like a relatively new phenomenon when compared with nutritional values that were introduced a quarter of a century ago, they were actually first used in the UK more than a decade ago.

In 2007, UK supermarket Tesco committed to putting a carbon footprint on all its products, triggering companies such as PepsiCo, Innocent and Boots to follow suit. But after four years, enthusiasm for the movement ran out of steam, with complaints that it was too costly and time-consuming. 

But now, predominantly driven by a new generation of vegan and vegetarian brands, carbon labels are back on the agenda. 

Plant-based milk brand Oatly first analysed the life cycle of its products in 2013 and highlighted its carbon footprint on packaging in 2018. Now it is starting to roll out carbon labels across its products sold in Europe and the US

This year in the UK, meat substitute company Quorn, which has been working with The Carbon Trust since 2012 to measure its carbon footprint, started using carbon labels on its supermarket products. 

Now bigger brands are weighing up the benefits, including Nestle and Premier Foods, while supermarkets Sainbury’s and Co-op, as well as Tesco, have pledged to meet or better the UK’s “net zero” carbon emissions target by 2050. 

And in September, to coincide with Climate Week, Just Salad became the first restaurant chain in the US to display the carbon footprint of every item on its menu. 

Now Huel has pledged to join the carbon labels movement by the end of 2021. 

What has Huel pledged to do?
Along with the nutritional value of its ingredients, Huel’s products will include the total estimated greenhouse gas emissions generated during its production. 

Using a scoring system, which for the first time, combines both elements of nutrition and carbon footprint, Huel wants to challenge everyday food choices by highlighting the nourishment they provide alongside the detrimental consequences they have on the planet. 

“Research shows that a quarter (26%) of all global carbon emissions come from creating the food we eat and yet, at the same time, poor diets cause roughly 11 million deaths a year,” read a release from Huel, published with its report. 

According to Huel, one 400 kcal serving of Huel Vanilla Powder produces 0.6kg CO2 emissions. 

By contrast, the brand found a typical chicken and bacon sandwich (400 kcal) creates 65% more greenhouse gas emissions (0.99kg CO2e), while a cheeseburger (400 kcal) contains an astonishing 510% more (3.66kg CO2e).

Huel said the sandwich and burger stack up poorly when it comes to their nutritional value too, when compared with the balance of protein, carbohydrate, fat and all 26 essential vitamins and minerals provided by its products. 

“The way we eat is killing us and destroying the planet. We need to make changes, and fast,” Huel CEO James McMaster said, commenting on the findings of the report. 

“Changing what we eat is the simplest and largest impact we can have on both the planet and our bodies,” he added. 

“But the food industry needs to make it simple for consumers to make those decisions, which is why we are urging all brands to include the carbon emissions associated with their products on all packaging within the next two years.”

Why has transparency become so important?
Carbon labels aren’t just a nice-to-have, says Jessi Baker, Founder and CEO of Provenance.org, which works with brands to better communicate the origin and impact of their products. 

“Today, not only do three in five people want to know where their food comes from but also how it’s made,” Baker told Welltodo. “This means brands are going to have to make changes to meet the expectations of an increasingly knowledgeable and engaged audience.” 

Baker highlighted the progress already made by F&B brands, including Italian tomato company Napolina, canned fish group Princes, French drinks brand Avallen Calvados, fruit and veg supplier Natoora and Tony’s Chocolonely – ”the poster child for positive impact”. 

And, she revealed that Provenance.org has seen a significant shift in consumer demand for greater sustainability and transparency over the past couple of years, driven by younger consumers. The pandemic has only crystallised this trend. 

“Powerful research shows that 50% of consumer packaged goods (CPG) growth from 2013 to 2018 came from ‘sustainability’-marketed products,” said Baker, pointing to research by NYU Stern Centre for Sustainable Business

And, “in 2018 Nielsen found that 75% of millennials are willing to make changes to their habits to benefit the environment, compared with just 34% of Baby Boomers,” she added.

But most interestingly, she argued, is that: “the pandemic is bringing changes, not only to supply chains but also how shoppers engage around these topics. Eight out of ten are making sustainability-based purchases, even during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Baker believes price and value will always be a key factor in a product’s success but consumer pressure will demand greater transparency and sustainability. 

“There’s now so much more education and media attention on the climate crisis and the human rights violations that prop up our supply chains. We’re now also dealing with a more conscious citizen who’s increasingly informed and inspired to act,” she told Welltodo.

“Showing commitments, impact progress and claims in a straightforward way we can all understand and trust will, therefore, enable the brands of the future to win financially but also have genuine impact.” 

Huel & Other Wellness Brands Join Push Towards Carbon Labelling

Image: Provenance

A further 10% reduction by 2022
For Huel, its mission has always been to make nutritionally complete, convenient and affordable food, with minimal impact on animals and the environment. 

And that objective is clearly resonating with consumers. 

At the start of the year, the brand announced it had sold over 100 million meals across 100 countries, since its launch in 2015. And just last week the company was ranked 7th in Fast Track 100’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in Britain – the highest-ranked F&B brand. 

“Over the next two years we will be looking at the ingredients we use within our products, primary and secondary packaging, and both upstream and downstream transport,” McMaster told Welltodo. 

“We will also be completing footprints of both our Hot & Savoury products and our bars, and publishing the carbon footprint of each product to share this information with our customers to inform their choice.” 

Huel has also vowed to reduce the carbon footprint of its powdered product by 10% by the end of 2021 and to continue to reduce it further in years to come. 

“As we work to reduce the footprint of our products we will also look for opportunities to protect the human rights and enhance the livelihoods of all those touched by our business,” McMaster added. 

Sustainability can’t just live online
While Baker welcomed the recently published sustainability reports by Huel and Oatly (2019) as great steps for the industry, she also noted that efforts to be more transparent can’t just live online. 

“Shoppers are facing an avalanche of information,” she said. “It needs to be distilled, translated, contextualised and verified. It needs to be ‘live’ and dynamic to be able to show progress and accountability against a brand’s commitments over time. 

“It should be verified or audited by a third-party so there’s no risk of greenwashing or misinformed marketing claims. 

“Most importantly, it shouldn’t live in a CSR page on the website or sustainability report – but at the point of sale where decisions are made.” 

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