We dig into the world of mayonnaise, salad cream, pickle, chutney and relish
The condiment market is, apparently, suffering a downturn. Chutney
has lost its momentum, Salad cream stagnates, read the
sad headlines.(1) The only hope, it seems, comes in the form of relish which
is, thanks to the increasing popularity of barbecues (global warming?),
enjoying something of a boom (though mayonnaise is holding its own).
decline in sales is being linked to healthier eating habits salad
cream out, salad dressing in; to pre-packaged sandwiches being favoured
over make-your-own (goodbye pickle) and to the decline of the traditional
roast dinner (no cold meat and chutney the next day). But what are the ethical
implications of all this?
The good news since our last report is the removal of Branston from the
Nestlé boycott list following its sale to the Premier Foods group.
Now for the not-so-good...
Plastic vs glass
As market growth has slowed, manufacturers have sought to innovate
their product lines in an attempt to draw consumers back. Squeezy plastic
bottles have started to replace glass jars in some cases particularly
relish. Companies are trying to appeal to our lazy side and persuading us
that its just too much effort to use a spoon to dish out the mayo.
Why bother when you can squeeze instead?
Predictably, this means an increase in plastic packaging. Recovery of waste
plastic bottles is estimated at around 65,000 tonnes this year (up from
48,000 tonnes in 2004).(2) However, this still only equates to a miserable
12% leaving nearly 90% of plastic bottles in landfill. Whats more,
the plastics recycling process is more complex, energy intensive and less
popular than glass partly due to the many different types of plastic
but also because recycling targets set by weight discourage the recycling
of lighter materials.
The following products can be bought in plastic bottles: Branston (pickle
and relish), Hellmans (mayonnaise), Heinz (salad cream), Sharwoods (some
chutneys). As packaging already represents the largest single sector of
plastics use in the UK,(3) these brand owners are showing a significant
lack of environmental responsibility by encouraging yet more plastic into
landfill. Environmentally-concerned consumers can encourage companies to
shift back to glass by avoiding plastic packaging wherever possible.
Conventional mayonnaise and salad cream contains egg. Hellmans mayonnaise
and Heinz salad cream contain egg sourced from battery hens as neither company
has a policy of using free-range eggs. Hens living in battery cages are
subject to painful, cramped conditions, and are prevented from enjoying
natural activities such as foraging and pecking on the ground.
(4) For those consumers wanting to avoid battery eggs, the following products have been
made with free-range egg: Meridian and Simply Delicious (both
mayonnaise and salad cream).
For those wishing to avoid eggs altogether, two mayonnaise brands covered
on the table - Plamil and Mayola are completely egg
and dairy free. They both receive product sustainability marks and get
the letter A (for animal welfare) on the table because they
are vegan alternatives to normally non-vegan products.
GM through the back door
A number of companies on the table have involvement in genetic engineering.
Public protest in the late 1990s eventually pushed virtually all companies
to remove genetically modified (GM) ingredients from their European supply
chains. Environmental campaigners continue to highlight the possible dangers
of GM organisms as there is still little known about the long term effects
of their release into the wild.
Social and economic problems can also result.
According to Greenpeace: ...the multinational biotechnology companies
own all patent rights to the crop varieties they develop, increasing their
stranglehold on global agriculture and allowing them to generate vast profits.(5)
Despite huge consumer resistance in Europe, GM products are still entering
the food chain as they are being used in animal feed.
Although current EU
labelling laws require GM foods to be clearly marked, they dont require
labelling of meat and dairy products from livestock fed on GM feed.(5)
Where products contain animal-derived ingredients non vegan salad
cream and mayonnaise it is possible that, unless certified organic
(which prohibits the use of GM ingredients and GM animal feed), these products
could contain egg and dairy ingredients from animals fed on GM feed.
HJ Heinz, Premier Foods nor Unilever have policies prohibiting the use of
GM feed, so there is no guarantee that their salad cream and mayonnaise
products are GM-feed free. Consumers wanting to avoid GM food altogether
should opt for organic varieties, although there is growing concern that
the release of GM organisms could be contaminating organic agriculture.
Waste Online www.wasteonline.org.uk
or the Recycle Now helpline on 0845 331 31 31
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)
0808 100 2040
Greenpeace GM campaign www.greenpeace.org.uk
020 7865 8100
Pickles, Chutney and Relish, Mintel UK, September 2005 & Salad
Accompaniments, Mintel UK, 8/05 2
UK Plastic Bottle Survey 2005,
Plastics recycling information sheet, www.wasteonline.co.uk,
viewed 6/3/07 4
www.vegansociety.com, viewed 6/3/07 5