Baked Beans

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 25 baked beans brands.

We also look at sugar and salt content and packaging, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Mizkan Group and give our recommended buys.

About 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.

What to buy

What to look for when buying baked beans:

  • Is it organic? Baked beans contain ingredients that are often grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides. Look for organic to avoid the environmental damage these cause.

  • Is it vegan? To avoid the animal rights and environmental issues surrounding animal products, opt for a company that is 100% vegan.

  • Is it in glass packaging? Tins are often lined, to stop the metal contaminating the food inside. Unfortunately, the chemicals used are sometimes toxic. Look for a company that uses glass packaging or has a strong policy on the use of toxic chemicals. 

Best Buys

Our Best Buys are all organic, and several are also vegan [A]:

All, apart from Hodmedod’s British baked beans, are organic.

Recommended Buys

Waitrose Duchy Organic is the best of the widely available brands

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying baked beans:

  • Is it tinned? Most tin comes from the Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, where the industry was deregulated in 2001. Since then it has led to indiscriminate environmental destruction and serious abuses of human rights. Look for companies with a strong policy on sourcing tin.

  • Does it contain toxic chemicals? Tins are often lined, to stop the metal contaminating the food inside. Unfortunately, the chemicals used are sometimes toxic, BPA being the most common of these. Go for a BPA-free company.

  • Profits over people? From the growers producing the beans to miners extracting the tin, baked beans manufacturers often rely on overworked and underpaid workers. Look for a company with a strong commitment to workers' rights. 

Companies to avoid

Not only does it score poorly in our table, it was named the worst supermarket in the UK for treatment of suppliers in 2017. Avoid own-brand baked beans from:

  • Asda

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20)

Geo Organics Baked Beans [O,A]

Company Profile: Venture Foods (UK) Ltd
17

Mr Organic baked beans [O,A]

Company Profile: The Organic Family Ltd
17

Suma baked beans [O, A]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
15.5

Biona organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Windmill Organics Ltd
14.5

Hodmedod's baked beans [A]

Company Profile: Hodmedod Ltd
14.5

Bionova organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Faan Zuidhorn B.V. (FZ Organic Food)
13

Essential baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Essential Trading Co-operative Ltd
13

Whole Earth organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Whole Earth Foods Ltd
11

Rakusens kosher baked beans

Company Profile: Rakusen's Ltd
10

Waitrose Duchy Organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
7.5

Weight Watchers baked beans

Company Profile: HJ Heinz Company
6

Co-op baked beans

Company Profile: Co-operative Group Ltd
5

M&S baked beans

Company Profile: Marks & Spencer Group plc
5

Ocado baked beans

Company Profile: Ocado Group plc
4

Sainsbury's SO Organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
3.5

Waitrose baked beans

Company Profile: Waitrose Limited
3.5

Branston baked beans

Company Profile: Mizkan Group
3

Heinz Baked Beans Organic [O]

Company Profile: HJ Heinz Company
3

HP baked beans

Company Profile: HP Foods
2.5

Heinz Baked Beans

Company Profile: HJ Heinz Company
2.5

Sainsbury's baked beans

Company Profile: J Sainsbury plc
2.5

Morrisons baked beans

Company Profile: Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc
2

Tesco organic baked beans [O]

Company Profile: Tesco plc
2

Tesco baked beans

Company Profile: Tesco plc
1

Asda baked beans

Company Profile: Asda Group Ltd
0

What is most important to you?

Animals
Environment
People
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Product sustainability

Our Analysis

In terms of market leaders, beans does mean Heinz, which is the bestselling brand. See our feature on Kraft Heinz Company which is the fifth largest food and beverage 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: Ethical guide to baked beans

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, Sainsbury's SO Organic and Tesco organic – 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 eight companies get our best rating for their management of workers’ rights at their suppliers: Organic Family, Venture Foods, Hodmedod’s, Duchy Originals Ltd, John Lewis, Co-op Group, Marks & Spencer, Tesco.

Only five score best for their reporting on their environmental impact: Organic Family, Venture Foods, Hodmedod’s, Co-op Group, Marks & Spencer.

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.

Essential and Geo Organics do best on sugar levels, better than Heinz’s no added sugar and any of the reduced sugar varieties. Biona jars and Mr Organic also do better than most of those that advertise themselves as reduced sugar.

What’s more, Heinz and Branston add sweeteners to reduce their 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. They are joined by another organic brand, Sainsbury’s SO Organic which takes Branston’s position as the brand with the most sugar in. It had over 6 times the amount of sugar in it than the lowest level brand, Essential.

In fact, of the worst 6 brands for sugar, 4 were organic brands.

However, the organic brands did do better on sugar levels than they did on salt. Of the 11 organic brands, 4 are near the bottom of the table, 3 are mid table and four are near the top with two of these having the lowest sugar levels available.

Recommended maximum daily sugar intake

The Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) gives the following guidance on the maximum daily consumption of added sugars. 

4-6 years 19g
7-10 years 24g
11 years+ 30g

A portion of baked beans for an adult is 250 g.  For a portion of Heinz baked beans an adult gets 11.75 g of sugar which is 39% of their recommended daily intake.

For kids, a portion may be 100 g so a 4-6 year-old would be eating 4.7g of sugar, a quarter of his or her recommended daily intake with just one serving of baked beans. That's as much sugar as eating nearly 2 digestive biscuits. 

Image: baked beans salt and sugar content

Salt levels

For 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. Asda’s reduced sugar & salt gets closest to being low salt. The rest are all in the middle bracket with Biona’s tinned beans edging dangerously close to the high-salt bracket.

It is disappointing to see so many organic brands with higher salt levels. Of the 11 organic varieties we surveyed, 6 of them were towards the higher salt end of the table with the others mid table. Of the 10 worst brands for salt, 6 of them were organic brands.

No organic brands were lower salt. The lowest salt rating for an organic brand was Tesco and Suma with 0.5g per 100g.

The highest level of salt of all 33 varieties surveyed was an organic brand, tins of Biona beans with 1.1g per 100g. That’s just over three times the amount of salt that the lowest variety, Asda’s reduced sugar & salt, has.

Recommended maximum salt intake

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

1-3 years 2g salt 0.8g sodium
4-6 years 3g salt 1.2g sodium
7-10 years 5g salt 2g sodium
11 years+ 6g salt 2.4g sodium

A portion of baked beans for an adult is 250 g according to Branston, one of the highest salt brands, 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 4-6 year-old would be eating 0.9g of salt, a third of his or her recommended daily intake with just one serving of Branston baked beans.

Even with a kid's serving of Heinz beans, which has less salt than Branston, a kid would be eating more salt thans a bag of Walkers Ready Salted crisps.

(0.6g in Heinz baked beans, 32.5 g bag of Walkers ready salted = 0.46g salt.)

Who does best on both sugar and salt?

There are not many brands that do well on both counts.  Heinz no added sugar and Asda reduced sugar & salt are the best two.

How did our best buys rate?

Geo Organics does best on both sugar and salt.

Suma does worst for sugar but Essential, Biona jars and Mr Organic are near the top of the table for sugar. The rest are mid table.

Conversely, Suma is the best of our best buys for salt levels. Suma, Waitrose Duchy, Whole Earth and Hodmedod’s have an average level of salt and all have less than brand leader Heinz. The other 4 best buys languish at the high salt level end of the table.

A word about price

The supermarkets' 'value' ranges are of course the cheapest but Asda’s reduced salt & sugar variety, which is one of the best brands for salt and sugar, is also one of the cheapest brands.

Of those that do a reduced salt and sugar variety, Asda, Branston, Heinz, Tesco and Sainsbury’s do not charge more for the healthier one than their main brand whereas Morrisons charges 41% more for its healthier option.

Our best buys, the smaller, organic brands, are the most expensive. Biona is nearly 4 times more expensive than the cheapest organic brand, Tesco Organic.

However, Heinz Organic is more expensive than Whole Earth organic and roughly comparable to Suma, Mr Organic and Geo Organics.

There is a distinct mark-up by the supermarkets and major brands for their organic varieties – Sainsbury’s charges 72% more and Tesco charges 88% more, whilst best selling brand Heinz charges a third more for its organic variety.

More information

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.

BPA-free Partially BPA-free Uses BPA or no policy

Mr Organic

Essential

Biona

Kraft Heinz

Suma

Rakusen's

Bionova

Geo Organics

Hodmedod

Waitrose

Dutchy Organic

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’.

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.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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