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Baked Beans

Finding ethical and eco friendly baked beans: ratings for 13 brands of baked beans.

Our shopping guide covers sugar and salt content, vegan and organic baked beans, packaging, shines a spotlight on the ethics of Kraft Heinz and gives recommended and best buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping 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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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.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying baked beans:

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

  • Is it high in sugar and salt? Some brands have very high levels of sugar and salt in them.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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

Our Analysis

When it comes to baked beans, the well-known phrase “beans, beans good for your heart” may spring to mind – but that might not always be the case, given the high levels of sugar and salt we found in some brands of baked beans, and the dangers of the lining used inside many cans.

And although baked beans as a product don't vary greatly, the ethics of the companies behind the brands certainly do. In our score table some of the biggest brands just scrape above zero points, while many of the smaller independent brands score nearly maximum points.

When choosing what to buy for this everyday food cupboard staple then, issues like sugar, salt, packaging, along with corporate behaviour and ethics, are all important.

We cover all these topics in our review of 13 brands of baked beans.

Beans means ... high sugar and salt

Beans are vegan friendly and a cost-effective good source of protein and fibre, with negligible fat content.

But the levels of salt and sugar in baked beans can be very high, which somewhat negates their healthy potential.

High salt consumption is linked to a range of health problems including strokes and heart disease, whilst high sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

To help you avoid the beans with the highest salt and sugar content, we have compared the amount of sugar and salt used by the brands in this guide.

Are there any low sugar baked beans?

What is considered a low level of sugar?

  • Five grams or less of sugar per 100 g is considered to be low. (5 g is about a sugar cube’s worth)
  • 5 g to 22.5 g per 100 g is medium level
  • more than 22.5 g per 100 g is high

Clearspring and Essential do best on sugar levels, better than all the reduced sugar varieties.

Disappointingly, Suma organic and Heinz organic beans are still two of the worst for sugar. They were two of the worst when we reviewed beans previously, in our 2012 and 2017 guides.

An adult portion (250g, which is more than half a can of around 400g) of Heinz or Suma organic beans contains 13.5 g of sugar, more than a two finger Kit Kat!

The sugar content of a tin of Biona organic beans has gone up by 40% in the last six years and is now the brand with the most sugar in. An adult serving of Biona tinned beans equates to 14.75 g of sugar – nearly three sugar cubes!

Should you buy reduced-sugar baked beans?

There are four reduced-sugar brands in this guide – Heinz, Branston, Suma and Mr Organic – and all four also have lower levels of salt.

The jury’s out on whether sugar alternatives are better or worse for you than sugar itself. It’s swings and roundabouts.

To reduce the sugar content of baked beans, generally two alternative sweeteners are used: steviol and agave syrup. Heinz and Branston use stevia, Suma and Mr Organic use organic agave syrup.

Agave syrup comes from the sap of a cactus that is native to Mexico and is most commonly used to make tequila. It contains less glucose than sugar, so has a lower glycaemic index, but it contains more fructose which is considered to be one of the most damaging forms of sugar. It is much sweeter than sugar so less per 100 g can be used, but it is higher in calories. The advice is to use in moderation and buy organic, raw agave rather than highly processed versions which have less nutritional value.

Stevia also comes from a plant native to Central and South America. It is sweeter than sugar but contains no calories or sugars. However, highly refined extracts may perpetuate the desire for sweet-tasting foods and drinks, and therefore overconsumption is not recommended.

Also, there is criticism that the Guarani people in Paraguay and Brazil, who discovered the sweetening properties of stevia, have not received their share of the benefits from the economic exploitation of their ancestral knowledge.

Baked beans on a plate with white toast

Are there any low salt baked beans?

The salt levels are more of an issue. Salt levels in food in the UK are categorised as:

  • high in salt = more than 1.5 g of salt per 100 g of food
  • medium in salt = 0.3 g-1.5 g of salt per 100 g of food
  • low in salt = 0.3 g or less of salt per 100 g of food

Only Branston’s reduced sugar and salt beans came close to being classed as low salt. The rest are in the middle bracket, with Bionova edging dangerously close to the high-salt bracket.

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

  • 1 to 3 years: 2 g of salt a day
  • 4 to 6 years: 3 g of salt a day
  • 7 to 10 years: 5 g of salt a day
  • 11 years and over: 6 g of salt a day (just over 1 teaspoon)

If an adult portion of baked beans is 250 g, with Heinz beans an adult gets 1.5 g of salt, which is a quarter of their recommended maximum daily intake. With Bionova they would get nearly half.

If a kid’s portion is 100g, a 3-year-old would be eating nearly a third of their recommended maximum daily intake with just one serving of Heinz baked beans. A serving of Bionova would give them just over half their recommended maximum daily intake.

How do the brands rate for their salt levels?

  • 70% of the brands contained 25% or more of the recommended maximum daily intake for an adult.
  • A quarter of the brands contained 25% or more of the recommended maximum daily intake for a 4–6-year-old.
  • An adult portion of Heinz baked beans contains more salt than two big Grab Bag packets of Walkers Ready Salted crisps.
  • A kid's portion of Heinz baked beans contains as much salt as one big Grab Bag packet of Walkers Ready Salted crisps.

So, whilst Heinz trumpets the fact that its Beanz are “1 of your 5 a day and naturally high in protein and fibre”, it neglects to mention that along with all that you are getting a hefty dose of salt.

Do organic brands of baked beans have less salt?

Organic varieties may be healthier for the environment but not necessarily for your salt levels. Most of the organic brands, apart from Suma, have the same salt level or more salt than market leader Heinz.

Heinz No Added Sugar and Branston Reduced Sugar and Salt both have less salt than any of the organic brands and are fairly low in sugar. So, once again, the ethical consumer has to balance competing ethical considerations, as these two brands score poorly overall in our ethical rating.

How do the brands and their products compare for salt, sugar and price?

The table below is ranked by levels salt, best to worst (i.e. lowest level at top of table).

Salt and sugar levels ranked by salt, best to worst Salt g per 100g % of adult

max. recommended

daily intake of

salt (6g) in a

portion/serving

(250g)
% of 4–6-yearold recommended

max. daily intake of

salt (3g) in a

serving (100g)
Sugar g per 100 g Pence per 100g (as of June 2023)
Branston reduced sugar and salt 0.39 16 13 2.8 24p
Heinz no added sugar 0.4 16 13 1.9 34p
Suma organic low sugar 0.5 21 17 2.4 35p *
Suma organic 0.5 21 17 5.4 35p *
Mr Organic low sugar 0.56 23 19 2.8 44p
Whole Earth organic 0.6 25 20 4.3 30p *
Heinz 0.6 25 20 4.3 34p
Hodmedod's 0.6 25 20 4.6 52p *
Branston 0.6 25 20 4.7 24p
Heinz organic 0.6 25 20 5.4 43p
Hunger Breaks 0.62 26 21 2.3 14p
Biona organic (jars) 0.62 26 21 4.0 81p
Mr Organic 0.69 29 23 3.8 41p
Clearspring organic 0.77 32 26 1.0 71p *
Biona organic (tins) 0.77 32 26 5.9 35p
Essential organic 0.8 33 27 0.9 65p **
HP 0.8 33 27 4.5 24p
Bionova organic 1.1 46 37 3.6 50p

Price from Sainsbury’s or Ocado unless otherwise stated. * from brand’s website ** from Ethical Superstore

Are baked beans vegan?

The short answer is yes, unless they are baked bean meals which might contain meaty sausages such as in some Hunger Breaks, Branston, and Heinz varieties.

In this guide, there are a number of brands made by companies that only sell vegan products:

The following brands are made by vegetarian companies:

The Whole Earth company is 95% vegetarian, but a sister company sells organic meat.

Which baked beans are organic?

Mr Organic, Clearspring, Bionova and Biona only sell organic products.

Whole Earth, Essential, and Suma offered a large range of organic products, including their baked beans. Heinz had an organic range which included baked beans, but the majority of Heinz products were not organic.

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Which is more ethical Heinz or Branston?

The baked bean buyer, especially when they find themselves in the average supermarket, is often faced with little choice: it’s either Heinz or Branston – both of which sit at the unethical end of our score table. But there is still an ethical choice to be made in this situation.

It basically comes down to a choice between the US company Kraft Heinz and the Japanese duo that own Branston – Mitsubishi Corp and Mizkan Group.

Looking at the score table, Branston scores higher across all categories than Heinz, although both are very low scoring overall.

They have similar levels of salt and sugar, but Branston is cheaper and consumer group Which? ranked Branston above Heinz in terms of taste.

One way in which Heinz has one up on its rival is that it provides some information on the BPA in its can linings, whereas Branston stays schtum.

All thing considered, especially the overall ethiscore, we would recommend opting for Branston 'reduced sugar and salt' variety if you are choosing between these two brands.

Are tin cans eco friendly?

‘Tin’ cans only contain about 1-2% tin. They are mostly made from steel but are covered with a thin coat of tin to prevent oxidation, creating a material called tinplate. Whilst each can uses very little tin, tinplate overall makes up about 12% of the world’s tin use.

There are two main ethical issues when it comes to the use of tin:

1) Human rights and environmental destruction

The world's biggest exporter of tin is Indonesia, with 90% of Indonesia’s tin coming from two islands: Bangka and Belitung. The tin industry in Indonesia was deregulated in 2001, since then mining operations have accelerated across the islands.

The mining is associated with child labour and terrible working conditions where fatal accidents are not uncommon. Top-earning tin miners in Indonesia make about $13 a day.

The mining has also destroyed much of the local environment and with tin resources depleting on land, the destruction has spread to the sea causing further pollution and resulting in devastating impacts for local fishermen.

2) Conflict minerals

Tin is one of the four conflict minerals. Tin is considered a conflict mineral due to its association with armed conflicts and human rights abuses in certain regions of the world. As many depend on the tin industry for their livelihood, it would be careless to simply stop using tin or stop sourcing it from conflict areas. Campaigners are pushing for regulation and better standards.

Although tin is a conflict mineral, we didn’t rate the companies in this guide for their conflict minerals policies for two reasons: a) very little tin is actually used in the can, b) they did not appear to be sourcing any other conflict minerals.

If you want to avoid the ethical issues associated with tin, choose a brand that only uses glass jars – Essential, Clearspring or Bionova. Or make your own (see below).

Open tin of baked beans lying on side with beans spilt out

BPA in can linings

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in lots of food and drink packaging, including in the linings of tins to prevent metal corrosion contaminating the food. However, BPA can actually leak into the tinned food. BPA disrupts the regular action of hormones and has been linked to a wide range of health hazards including infertility, cancer, miscarriage, obesity, and heart disease.

Whilst BPA has been banned in food and drink packaging intended for babies, it is still widely used elsewhere.

UK BPA safety levels are 20,000 higher than EU

In April 2023, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) re-evaluated BPA’s safety and reduced the tolerable daily intake (TDI) to 0.2 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day. That’s 20,000 times lower than what it was before.

But the UK has rejected these guidelines and BPA is currently still allowed in packaging at the old level of 4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

France banned the use of BPA in all food packaging in 2015, a decision which displeased the PlasticsEurope lobby which also unsuccessfully took the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to court three times for listing BPA as a “substance of very high concern”.

BPA-free products

As BPA is not added to the food directly, UK brands do not legally need to state whether the chemical is used in their product packaging.

One way to tell whether a can is BPA-free is to check the product packaging for a ‘BPA-free’ label. But not all brands will list this.

Soil Association organic standards require that BPA and other bisphenols and PVC must not be used in packaging for organic foods so look out for these products. In this guide that is Mr Organic, Suma, Clearspring, and Heinz. However, even though some brands have switched to a BPA alternative for some products, the reality is that the alternatives may be just as bad or even more harmful than the original.

The University of California found that BPS (Bisphenol S), a substitute for BPA, disrupts the reproductive system. Another 2017 study found that six Bisphenol compounds used as BPA substitutes were more potent in their endocrine-disrupting properties than BPA. Other problem linings are PVC, a known human carcinogen, and polystyrene-acrylic resins, a possible carcinogen.

There are non-toxic alternatives such as oleoresin (oil and plant resin) and polyester and acrylic resins. Another option is to avoid cans and buy beans in glass jars. Studies have shown that you can reduce BPA levels in your body by as much as two-thirds by avoiding canned foods – in just a few days.

What the bean companies say about BPA

Nothing to say

There has been some improvement since our last guide in 2017, when most companies had no policies on the use of BPA, but the brand leaders – Heinz, HP, and Branston – still don’t have anything about BPA on their websites or cans.

Uses BPA

  • Whole Earth: “Our baked bean cans currently do contain BPA to prevent the erosion of the metal and subsequent contamination of the products but we are working to change this.”

BPA-free but does not name alternatives used

  • Heinz: nothing on its website or cans but tweeted in 2019, “Our most popular varieties of Heinz Beanz, Pasta, and Soups such as Cream of Tomato, Chicken, and Mushroom, have already switched to cans that avoid using BPA.”
  • Suma: “Soil Association standards require that BPA and other bisphenols must not be used in packaging for organic foods. All of our organic product packaging is BPA free.”
  • Mr Organic: uses a green ‘BPA-Free’ label.

BPA-free: uses naturally derived resins like oleoresin, acrylic and polyester resins

  • Biona: “The lining of the cans is made of an aluminised polyester and gold organosol lacquer.” Cans are labelled “No BPA used.”
  • Hodmedod’s: “All our canned products are packed in cans lined with a BPA-free gold acrylic lacquer.”

BPA-free: packaged in glass jars

BPA-free: make your own

But not from tinned beans! Use dried.

Make your own

Making your own baked beans means you can control salt and sugar levels. You can also support British-grown producers of beans and try different bean varieties e.g. fava beans from Hodmedod's.

The BBC Good Food website has some recipes to get you started.

How ethical are baked bean brands?

Palm oil and baked bean brands

Of all the Best Buys only Suma lost half a mark in this category due to palm derivatives in a few products which were said to be sustainably sourced, but not certified. The rest of the companies in the top half of the table either didn’t use palm oil (or its derivatives) or purchased it from a certified supply chain.

Companies in the lower half of the table all lost a full mark in this category. Some used palm oil but only a small amount was certified (e.g. Mitsubishi: only 12.5% of its palm oil was certified - they own Hunger Breaks and Branston).

Others, such as Heinz, only used certified palm oil but used processing mills that have been criticised for their ineffective 'No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation' measures.

Tax Conduct

No companies in the top half of the table were marked down for tax avoidance. But as is often the case, it is the large multinationals that fell foul.

The six brands at the bottom of the table all lost marks for likely use of tax avoidance strategies because we found that their family trees had branches in tax havens.

Supply Chain Management

Only two companies, Hodmedod’s and the Triangle Wholefood Collective (Suma), received our best rating in this category. The rest scored middle or worst.

Unfortunately Windmill Organics (Biona), which otherwise scored fairly high, did not make public its procurement policies, so lost a whole mark and therefore could not be a Best Buy in this guide.

Company Ethos

The table below shows the reason why several companies got an extra point in the Company Ethos column on the scoretable.

Companies can gain extra points for things like being a cooperative, all products being vegan and all products being organic.

  B Corp Is a cooperative All products organic All products vegan
Biona     Yes  
Bionova     Yes  
Clearspring     Yes Yes
Essential   Yes    
Hodmedod's       Yes
Mr Organic Yes   Yes Yes
Suma   Yes    

How ethical are supermarket own brand baked beans?

We have not included supermarket own brand baked beans here as all supermarkets score relatively poorly and wouldn't vary much from their overall rating which is in the full supermarket shopping guide.

If you do buy supermarket own brand beans, the same issues will apply such as salt and sugar levels, use of BPA lining in cans, and organic options.

Company behind the brand

Kraft Heinz is a multi-billion dollar food giant. Its product, Heinz baked beans, is at the rock bottom of our table. This is because together with Berkshire Hathaway, the iconic brand’s other owner, it was marked down in every category but two.

Kraft Heinz made it into the news last year because its ketchup price increase outstripped the overall rate of grocery inflation. Luckily, caring, generous Tesco, disputed this increase saying it “will not pass on unjustifiable price increases” and Heinz products were temporarily unavailable on its shelves.

Heinz regularly donates to both main political parties in the US and has repeatedly scored very low in the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark assessments.

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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This guide appeared in EC 204. An [O] in the score table after a brand name means the product has been awarded a sustainability point for being organic.