Baked Beans


Ethical shopping guide to Baked Beans, from Ethical Consumer.

Ethical shopping guide to Baked Beans, from Ethical Consumer.


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

 

A staple food for some people, we lift the lid on what is really inside your can of beans


The report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 15 brands of beans
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Company profiles
  • Salt and sugar levels compared
  • Toxic can linings

 

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

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Image: Baked Beans

 


Image: Whole Earth Baked Beans

 


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Last updated: April 2017

 

 

 

 

Beans means... sugar and salt

 

In terms of market leaders, beans does mean Heinz, which is the bestselling brand. Supermarket own-brands are the next biggest sellers.

The better scoring supermarkets (M&S, Waitrose and Co-op) all score better than Heinz but not as well as the super-ethical organic specialists. For more detail on how the supermarkets rate, see our product guide

 

Image of baked beans in ethical shopping guide

 

 

 

Score table highlights
 

There are lots of organic options for baked beans – Mr Organic, Geo Organics, Biona, Suma, Whole Earth, Essential, Bionova, Waitrose Duchy Organics – and even Heinz do an organic variety. In addition, over half of the companies in this guide have positive Company Ethos marks for being owned by their members or workers, or for only selling vegan or organic products.

However, that doesn’t automatically mean that their corporate social responsibility reporting is good. In fact, only four companies get our best rating for their management of workers’ rights at their suppliers: Organic Family, Venture Foods, Hodmedod’s and Duchy Originals Ltd.

Only three score best for their reporting on their environmental impact: Organic Family, Venture Foods and Hodmedod’s.

 


 

 

Sugar and salt compared
 

We did a survey of all the brands in this guide and compared their salt and sugar levels. High salt consumption is linked to a range of health problems including stroke and heart disease, whilst high sugar is linked to obesity and tooth decay. The levels of salt and sugar in baked beans are of particular concern because they can be a mainstay of many people’s diets, especially children.

The brands are sorted firstly by salt levels and then by sugar, highest at the bottom.


Sugar

5 g or less of sugar per 100 g is considered to be low so, whilst most baked beans are around or under that, some clearly do better than others. Geo Organic and Essential do best on sugar levels, even better than Heinz’s no added sugar and Branston’s reduced sugar varieties. Heinz and Branston add sweeteners to replace the sugar whereas Geo Organics and Essential use agave syrup.

Disappointingly, Suma organic and Heinz organic are still two of the worst for sugar. They were two of the worst in our 2012 guide. Branston is still the brand with the most sugar in.

 

Table: No Salt or Sugar



Salt

A high-salt food has more than 1.5 g of salt per 100 g (or 0.6 g of sodium) and a low-salt food has 0.3 g of salt or less per 100 g (or 0.1 g of sodium). None of the brands in this guide would be classed as low salt. They are all in the middle bracket with Biona’s tinned beans edging dangerously close to the high-salt bracket.

According to the NHS, the recommended daily intakes of salt are:

  • 1 to 3 years – 2 g of salt a day
  • (0.8 g of sodium)
  • 4 to 6 years – 3 g of salt a day
  • (1.2 g of sodium)
  • 7 to 10 years – 5 g of salt a day
  • (2 g of sodium)
  • 11 years and over – 6 g of salt a day 
  • (2.4 g of sodium)

 

A portion of baked beans for an adult is 250 g according to Branston, which means that with their beans an adult gets 2.25 g of salt which is more than a third of their recommended daily intake. For kids, a portion may be 100 g so a 4-year-old would be eating a third of his or her recommended daily intake with just one serving of Branston baked beans.

Organic varieties may be healthier for the environment but not necessarily for your salt levels. Heinz No Added Sugar has less salt than any of the organic brands. Most of the organic brands have the same salt level or more salt than market leader Heinz.

 


 


Toxic linings in cans
 

A key health issue surrounding canned food is the use of a substance called Bisphenol-A (BPA) which is used in the lining on the inside of cans or lids to stop the metal contaminating the food. Unfortunately, BPA itself can leak into the food.

BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it has potentially deleterious effects on reproduction and brain development. It is primarily used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which have many uses, from CDs and medical devices to impact-resistant safety equipment and dental sealants.

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published the results of a re-evaluation of BPA carried out by one of its expert panels. This review found that BPA “poses no health risks to consumers because current exposure to the chemical is too low to cause harm.”

However, the EFSA also significantly lowered the estimated safe level (tolerable daily intake or TDI) to 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, although this is temporary pending the outcome of a long-term study into the pre- and postnatal effects of BPA exposure.

The EFSA’s study found that public exposure to BPA is “well below” the new TDI of 4 µg/kg of body weight per day, with the highest estimated exposure being 3-5 times lower than the new TDI. Dietary exposure is highest among infants and toddlers, given their higher food consumption per kilo of bodyweight, but this is still more than four times below the new TDI.

A person would have to ingest more than 400 µg of BPA per kg of body weight per day to cause adverse kidney and liver effects. However, the EFSA said that effects of BPA on the reproductive, nervous, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, as well as in the development of cancer “are not considered likely at present but they could not be excluded.”

 

Safer alternatives?
 

Choosing BPA-free packaging does not necessarily mean consumers are avoiding potentially harmful chemicals. A recent study by a consortium of North American non-profit organisations tested 192 cans from a range of companies and found four coating types besides BPA in use: acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers.

The report described these as “regrettable substitute[s]” as several of these are known or potential carcinogens, including PVC and polystyrene:

“We know very little about the additives used in these compounds to give them the properties that make them stable and effective can linings. Our research does demonstrate that there are multiple formulations of most of these compounds, but there is no way to determine the specific chemicals used or how they are produced ... the lack of safety data and unknown additives mean we have no reliable data attesting to the safety of [several of] these compounds.”

Where do the companies stand?

Most of the companies in this guide have no policy on the use of BPA in their food packaging. Only two brands, Mr Organic and Essential, were totally BPA-free, while Biona and Kraft Heinz are partially BPA-free.

 

Table: BPA free


In its response to Ethical Consumer’s company questionnaire, Suma explained why it continues to use BPA in its cans:

“We currently use BPA as a lining in our cans following advice from the European Food Safety Authority. Independent studies have shown that, even when consumed at high levels, BPA is rapidly absorbed, detoxified, and eliminated from humans. The government advises that the levels of BPA found in food from food contact materials are not a concern to health. We continue to monitor developments in food safety and technology and are looking at possible alternatives.”


When asked about the use of BPA in its cans, Waitrose replied:

“BPA is only permitted for use in Waitrose-branded canned goods where its presence in protective coatings and linings is critical in ensuring product safety. The use of BPA in this application will be phased out as developments in packaging technology provide a viable alternative. Testing of canned product containing BPA-based protective coatings and linings is carried out to demonstrate that any migration of BPA into the product is within statutory limits.”

Essential Trading stated that it did not intentionally use BPA in its canned goods and glass jar lids. Essential Trading prefer the term ‘BPA non-intent’ because “BPA is ubiquitous in the natural environment, and very small amounts may be detected in non-BPA substances, as current technology measures in parts per billion.”

If you’re concerned about BPA or other undisclosed chemical linings of cans, you can choose baked beans in glass jars from Biona, Bionova and Essential. The advantage is that the use of BPA is minimised – unfortunately, it may still be used to line the metal lid of the Biona and Bionova brands.



Avoiding BPA
 

  • Buy Mr Organic or Essential BPA-free baked beans
  • Buy baked beans in glass jars from Biona or Bionova
  • Reduce the number of tinned goods you eat
  • Make your own baked beans – plenty of recipes on the web
  •  

 


 

 

 

The problems with tin

 

‘Tin’ cans are, in fact, largely made out of steel. However, to prevent oxidation, the steel is often covered with a fine coating of tin, creating a material called ‘tinplate’.

 

Image: Tin

 

Although this process uses very little tin per can, tinplate overall accounts for about 15% of the world’s tin use, with the bulk of this going into food and beverage cans, so the total amount used is not negligible, even if it small compared to the amount used by the electronics industry.

 

 

There are two main ethical issues around tin.
 

The first issue is that the world’s biggest tin exporter is Indonesia and about a third of the tin used worldwide comes from two Indonesian islands: Bangka and Belitung. These islands have been producing tin for centuries but, in 2001, the industry was deregulated and, since then, mining operations have spread indiscriminately, destroying the local environment and frequently employing workers, including children, in terrible conditions. Safety measures are often ignored, and fatal accidents are common.

The second issue is that tin is considered one of the four ‘conflict minerals’ that have been blamed for fuelling armed conflict in the DR Congo (the others are tantalum, tungsten and gold).

It would be reckless to simply avoid using tin. Local people in both places rely on the tin industry for income. Campaigners have thus generally focused on trying to encourage better standards.

However, because the electronics industry is the big tin user, research into what companies are doing has so far concentrated on electronics companies. There is a lack of information available on other users of tin, including the makers of tinplate.

 

Where do the companies stand?
 

Due to the fact that canning only concerns one of the conflict minerals and also given the moderately low levels of tin used in manufacturing cans, the companies in this guide have not been rated on their conflict minerals policies. However, all companies were still asked if they had a policy on conflict minerals.

Suma was the only company to respond to this question, stating that they were “committed to sourcing materials from companies that share our values around human rights, ethics and environmental responsibility.”

Suma also forwarded a declaration from their can supplier, Ardagh Packaging Holdings, on its sourcing of tin containing materials. This confirmed that no minerals were sourced from conflict areas of the DRC or adjacent countries but that there was tin sourced from Indonesia in its supply chain.

Ardagh, which supports the work of the IDH Indonesian Tin Working Group10 via its membership of the International Tin Industry Association, said that it expected suppliers to source from smelters audited by the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) and that it was performing due diligence to ensure this policy was being complied with.

 

 

 

Company behind the brand
 

The Branston brand is owned by Japanese vinegar company, Mizkan Group, which also owns Sarson’s and Dufrais vinegars and the Haywards pickle brand.

Branston baked beans are made by Princes Ltd in the UK, under license from Mizkan. Princes is part of the giant Japanese Mitsubishi Group who are also covered in the Tuna guide.

 

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