Ethical buyers' guide to packs of nuts

Ethical buyers' guide to packs of nuts


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.

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We look at packet nuts, the major brands and alternative sources.

The report includes:

  • ethical and environmental ratings for 29 brands of nut
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • which are grown in the Occupied Territories
  • fair trade varieties
  • organic and GM brands
  • price comparison of the brands

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Best Buys

as of September/October 2008


As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the ethiscore website may have changed since this report was written.


Liberation Fairtrade range (Twin Trading Ltd, 0207 375 1221)

Essential organic and Fairtrade ranges (Essential Trading Co-op Ltd, 0117 958 3550))

Suma organic and fair trade ranges (Triangle Whole Foods, 01422 313845)

>Traidcraft fairtrade (Traidcraft Plc, 0191 491 0591)

Crazy Jack organic (Community Foods, 020 8450 9411)


Going Nuts

From PepsiCo's 'Nobby's Nuts' and 'Big D' peanuts, whose overtly sexual advertising is enough to raise a storm in a pint glass, to Liberation's step-beyond-fair-trade varieties, the diversity of suppliers is significant.

But such companies provide the crumbs left in the bag: supermarkets' own label nuts collared a hefty 73% of the market in 2007.(1)

Brands such as Nobby's, Dormen's and Neal's Yard include a range of exotic flavours in their snack nut selections, whereas suppliers such as Suma and Essential are geared more towards the wholefood market and sell mostly plain nuts.

If nuts are a staple ingredient in your cooking, the larger packs sold by these companies will be more suitable for your cupboard. Liberation are a widely available 'Best Buy', sold in Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Oxfam and many independent stores. The table in this report, which summarises the ethical performance of the companies listed, perhaps holds few surprises.

Companies such as Liberation, Essential and Suma bag the most points, the 'big four' supermarkets (ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsburys and Tescos) drag their knuckles along the floor at the bottom of the table, and a sprinkling of independent and/or smaller companies hover around centre-stage.


Supermarkets

Ethical Consumer's database contains a vast amount of entries detailing the big supermarkets' dodgy conduct, hence the red marks in many categories for these companies. The companies at the top of the table pick up company ethos points as they are either worker-owned co-operatives, such as Essential and Triangle Wholefoods, or have a trading structure that benefits their suppliers, such as Twin Trading and Traidcraft.

All of the big four supermarkets have had boycotts called against them by the BIG campaign (Boycott Israeli Goods) for selling Israeli produce. Purchasing fruit and vegetables from Israel's biggest agricultural exporter, Carmel Agrexco, comes with no guarantee that it has come from within Israel's borders, and Sainsburys and Tescos have recently admitted to selling produce from settlements on occupied Palestinian land.(2)

The Palestinian Occupied Territories are listed in the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) top 20 almond exporters in 2004 and 20053; in the previous four years, Israel was listed but not Palestine. Considering that the vast majority of produce exported from the West Bank comes from the settlements, it seems likely that these figures are based on settlement produce, and the change from 'Israel' to 'Palestine' may be an issue of labelling on the part of Israeli authorities.


International Trade

Many nut producing countries are in the Majority World and the sector is one in whichthe precarious nature of international trade can have a significant effect on communities which depend heavily on one product for their income. According to a BBC article, in 2001 a small rise in the world production of shelled nuts, from 14,000 to 16,000 tons, resulted in the price of brazil nuts crashing, with devastating effects on the communities in Bolivia which harvested the product.(4)

In such areas, a change in the global market price of a single product can have a huge impact on the food security of local people.

According to FAO statistics, the top ten cashew nut producer countries in 2005 included Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire and Mozambique,(5) all of which were also ranked in the 15 countries with the lowest Human Development Index in the same year.(6)

Such statistics give some weight to Triodos Bank's assertion that the nut industry "exemplifies some of the inherent inequities in global trade".(7)

The International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED) have conducted extensive research into the cashew nut industries in Mozambique and India.

They found that "the power imbalance between intensely competing Southern producers and relatively few Northern buyers gives large retailers, the supermarkets, the upper hand over their supply chains. They are increasingly able to direct cashew networks, dictating the terms on which business is done and how the cashew is produced, as well as capturing most of the revenue generated along the chain".(8)

Furthermore, the IIED's study in Mozambique concluded that liberalisation of the cashew nut sector and privatisation of processing has lead to lower wages and poorer working conditions.(9)


Fair trade

The last time nut products were covered in Ethical Consumer was in 2003, when fair trade nuts were not on the menu for British consumers. Brazils, cashews, peanuts and walnuts now all have fair trade certification, and specialist wholefood shops as well as most of the major supermarkets will stock at least some fair trade varieties (ASDA being the exception in this report). Liberation Foods is a Community Interest Company solely distributing fair trade nuts.

Established by Twin Trading and Equal Exchange, its biggest shareholder is a co-operative of producers from countries in Africa, South America and India, who own 42% of the company.

Such a structure gives producers a foot under the table of Western markets, allowing them to have a say in importing and wholesaling the product in the UK, and consequently taking the concept of 'fair trade' a step further up the supply chain. Liberation also supply a significant proportion of the supermarkets' own brand fair trade nuts.


Brazils from Bolivia?

As a non-timber forest product, brazil nuts have been cited as the most economically important plant product that is harvested sustainably from the Amazon rain forests, with a dual function of forest conservation and poverty alleviation.(10)

Harvesting nuts from forest areas is an alternative to wood extraction and shifting cultivation (or 'slash and burn') agriculture, activities which have led to deforestation in some of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Many of the poorest people in these regions are engaged in nut harvesting.

A shift occurred in the export of brazil nuts following the European Commission's decision in 1998 to reduce the allowable levels of aflatoxins from 20 parts per billion (ppb) to 4 ppb. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic chemicals produced by moulds which grow on protein-rich foods such as nuts.

The three main brazil nut producer countries, Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, challenged the new Regulation with the World Trade Organisation on the basis that it was without scientific justification; in response the EC invoked the precautionary principle.

According to Coslovsky, brazil nut exporters in Bolivia responded better to the new aflatoxin requirement than those in Brazil.

Whilst producers in Bolivia used collective action to improve their facilities and processes, in Brazil attempts to co-operate collectively failed, resulting in very few improvements. Between 2000 and 2003, Bolivian firms out-performed Brazilian ones, with 58% of the brazil nuts consumed worldwide coming from Bolivia, and only 32% coming from Brazil.(11)


Genetic Modification

Genetically modified nuts are not currently commercially available, although field trials of GE walnut trees have taken place. However, the ingredients used to flavour nuts could be subject to genetic modification.

Sun Valley, who also supply Salty Dog Brands, have a non GMO policy, as do United Biscuits, who produce KP nuts, and Essential, Traidcraft and Triangle Wholefoods. All Crazy Jack produce is organic and is therefore not genetically modified.

The Fairtrade Labelling Organisations' standards include some environmental criteria, including prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms. ASDA, Sainsbury and Tesco have a non-GMO policy for their own brands, but this does not include other brands that they sell.


Pick and Mix: what's available where?

There's a big variety of nuts on the shelves, with a wide range of flavours available. Snack food companies generally sell at least a few different types of nuts and/or a selection of flavours.

The snack brands covered in this report are Big D, Crazy Jack, Dormen's, Julian Graves, KP, Neal's Yard (sold at Holland & Barrett and GNC stores) Liberation, Nobby's, Planters, Salty Dog, Sun Valley King of Nuts and Traidcraft.

The major supermarkets covered in this report, ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury and Tesco, all sell a fairly comprehensive range of nuts. Bigger pack sizes of peanuts are available from these shops, plus some organic and fair trade options.

Wholefood companies Essential and Suma also sell a whole range of nuts, and many of these are available in sack-size rather than snack-size portions. If you're after a 25 kg sack to see you through the year, you might want to consider setting up an account. The smaller bags sold by these companies are likely to be available at your local health food shop.


PRICE COMPARISON

The table below shows the price of plain, salted and dry roasted peanuts across the range of brands.

The price per 200g has been calculated and the available pack size appears in brackets after the band name. "But they are not nuts!" I hear our more learned readers cry. Maybe not, but peanuts are probably the most popular nut-like snack, and at least one variety is available from all of the brands listed.

The snack brands generally only sell in small bags, and these tend to be the most expensive.


Plain Peanuts

Brand and Pack Size Average Price per 200g
Suma organic peanuts (500g) (Best Buy) 60p
Neal's Yard paleskin peanuts (200g) 89p
Suma organic peanuts (125g) (Best Buy) 94p
Essential organic peanuts (250g) (Best Buy) 99p


Salted Peanuts

Brand and Pack Size Average Price per 200g
Tesco value (200g) 21p
ASDA (400g) 50p
Tesco Organic 95p
Sainsbury (200g) 56p
Morrisons (200g) 65p
Suma (250g) 71p
KP nuts (300g) £1.03
Traidcraft Fairtrade (150g) (Best Buy) £1.33
Big D (50g) £1.48
Dormen's (100g) £1.58
KP nuts (100g) £1.58
Nobby's Nuts (50g) £1.76
Dormens (50g) £2.00
Crazy Jack organic (75g) (Best Buy) £2.11
Sun Valley King of Nuts (50g) £2.20
Liberation Fairtrade Harry's Nuts (50g) (Best Buy) £2.36
Salty Dog (45g) £2.67


Dry Roasted Peanuts

Brand and Pack Size Average Price per 200g
ASDA (400g) 50p
Sainsbury (200g) 55p
Tesco (200g) 55p
Julian Graves (300g) £1.19
KP nuts (300g) £1.26
Nobby's Nuts (200g) £1.29
Big D (50g) £1.68
KP nuts (100g) £1.70
Dormens (50g) £2.00
Sun Valley King of Nuts (50g) £2.20
Salty Dog (45g) £2.93



REFERENCES

1 'Nuts, Seeds and Dried Fruit: UK' Mintel August 2008

2 The Observer 'Illicit' settler food sold in UK stores' 06/07/08

3 http://www.fao.org/es/ess/top/commodity.html?lang=en&item=221&year=2005, viewed 08/09/08

4 'Nut harvest sustains Bolivian Amazon,' BBC News, March 3rd 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/2807293.stm, viewed 08/09/08

5 www.fao.org/es/ess/top/commodity.html?lang=en&item=217&year=2005, viewed 08/09/08

6 http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_20072008_EN_Complete.pdf, page 232, viewed 08/09/08

7 Triodosnews 23

8 'Power in Global Value Chains: Implications for Employment and Livelihoods in the Cashew Nut Industry in India', IIED, March 2006

9 'Corporate Responsibility and Women's Employment: The Cashew Nut Case', IIED, March 2004

10 'European Health Regulations and Brazil Nuts: Implications for Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Rural Livelihoods

in the Amazon', Helen Newing and Stuart Harrop, Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy (2000) 3(2)

11 'How Bolivia's Brazil-Nut Industry Became Competitive in World Markets While Brazil's Fell Behind: Lessons from a Matched Comparison', Salo Vinocur Coslovsky, 23/10/06

12 www.boycotttesco.com/spychips.html, viewed 08/09/08

13 'MPs urge consumers to boycott Tesco's standard chicken' Farmer's Weekly Interactive, www.fwi.co.uk, viewed 08/09/08

14 www.careforthewild.com/default_detail.asp?detail=true&I_ID=494§ion=Home, viewed 08/09/08

15 www.feelingblueseeingred.org/boycotts.php, viewed 08/09/08

16 Pepsico Inc Sec Filing Form 10-K for 12/29/07

17 'Cola's scourge insists India Inc not the enemy', Financial Times, 01/09/08

18 The Ecologist, July/August 2003

19 www.blackstone.com, viewed 08/09/08

20 Food and Drug Administration Consumer Magazine 'FDA Crackdown on Illegal Products', www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2004/204_illegal.html, viewed 08/09/08

21 Alerta Media Scotland /scot.altermedia.info/environement/gm-products-slip-into-foods_121.html, viewed 08/09/08

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