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Cereal

Finding ethical and eco friendly breakfast cereals: ratings for 38 breakfast cereal brands, with recommended buys and what to avoid.

We rate the major brands like Kellogg's and Nestlé, as well as smaller eco friendly brands, look at what cereals are vegan, how to avoid high sugar cereals, palm oil and what packaging is used. Plus how to make your own cheap but tasty breakfast cereals.

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 breakfast cereals:

  • Is it organic? Synthetic pesticides and herbicides threaten insect populations, contaminate water sources, and can have ecosystem-wide knock-on effects. Buying organic supports farmers using nature-based practices.

  • Does it contain exactly what you want? If not, make your own. It’s easy and it’s the best way to avoid added sugar and a surfeit of raisins.

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

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying breakfast cereals:

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to massive deforestation and serious human rights violations. Look for brands that source palm oil sustainably or avoid it completely.

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

In many places around the world, breakfast food is the same as food eaten at any other time of day. But here in the UK, breakfast means cereal. Nearly 90% of us eat breakfast cereals and in 2022, we spent nearly £1.8 billion on them.

Breakfast cereals have been described as having a “health halo” meaning that we assume they’re generally good for us based on single claims such as “high fibre” or “low fat”. In reality, many of them are quite bad for us.

We look at the sugar content of cereals and how companies are responding to calls to reduce it. We also discuss what companies are doing on palm oil, GMOs, greenhouse gas emissions, and packaging. We also highlight vegan cereals and vegan-only brands.

Breakfast cereal brands in this guide

No one will be surprised to see the name Kellogg’s in a guide to breakfast cereals, but you might wonder what the likes of PepsiCo and Ferrero are doing among the 38 brands in the scoretable.

Behind the various brand names, much of the breakfast cereal market is concentrated in the hands of some of the world’s biggest food and drinks companies.

PepsiCo owns the Quaker, Oat So Simple, and Scott’s porridge brands and, three years ago, bought the company which makes Lizi’s granola. It also owns 10% of Rude Health.

Two of the biggest food companies in the world, Nestlé and General Mills, together produce the Nestlé-branded Shreddies, Shredded Wheat and Cheerios.

Associated British Foods, the owner of Primark and many food brands such as Sunblest and Patak’s, owns the Jordans and Dorset Cereals brands.

Weetabix, Alpen and Grape Nuts are owned by US giant Post Holdings.

New entrants to the breakfast cereal market are Ferrero, which bought the British cereal company Eat Natural in 2021, and Scottish company and owner of the Irn Bru brand, AG Barr, which bought MOMA Foods at the end of 2022.

The most popular cereals in the UK

Weetabix is the most popular individual breakfast cereal in the UK with 9% of the market share.

The various Kellogg’s brands make up more than 25% of the ready-to-eat market when added together.

In the hot cereals market (porridge, basically), PepsiCo’s brands Quaker, Oat So Simple, and Scott’s make up more than 50% of the market.

 

Sugar, fibre and ingredients


Do breakfast cereals contain a lot of sugar?

Breakfast cereals are often marketed as healthy: packaging states that the product is high in fibre or has added vitamins and minerals; adverts feature thin women jumping into water. Some cereals actually are pretty good for you (see below) but many of them are loaded with sugar. This is despite government calls for the industry to reformulate products to reduce their sugar content.

The campaign groups Action on Salt and Action on Sugar have been monitoring the levels of sugar in breakfast cereals since 2019. Every year they look at cereals that are marketed at children, for example, through the use of cartoon characters or games printed on the packaging. In 2022-3 this was 133 products (roughly a quarter of all cereals). Since 2019, the proportion of these cereals high in sugar (according to government labelling guidance) has dropped but it is still 22%.

The proportion that are low in sugar is only 7% and the average sugar content per 100 g is 18 g (roughly the same as Nice biscuits).

Overall, these figures are much better than in 2019 but many cereals remain far from healthy.

The two campaign groups want cereal manufacturers to remove child-friendly images from less healthy products. They argue that allowing companies to reformulate voluntarily has not resulted in sufficient progress and that only mandatory regulation will result in significant and impactful improvements in public health.

bowl of multi coloured cereals

Are cereals marketed at adults less sugary?

Many 'adult' cereals do have less sugar, but some are as bad as the worst cereals marketed to children. Alpen, for example, is 21% sugar, and some granolas are more than 25% sugar. We didn’t look at all the brands’ granolas but, during our research, we found that both low- and high-scoring companies had high-sugar products.

For example, Jordans country crisp flame raisins (AB Foods) is 27.9% sugar, and Alara’s golden crisp gluten-free organic granola is 25.8% sugar. For comparison, Tesco jam doughnuts are 21.6% sugar.

The British Heart Foundation ranks breakfast cereals from best to worst based on their nutritional value.

Porridge comes out on top followed by no-added-sugar muesli. Of the more processed cereals, plain Shredded Wheat does best, and bran flakes aren’t bad as long as you don’t add any sugar.

Nestle claimed its KitKat breakfast cereal was nutritious

Some companies seem to have lost the memo about sugar reduction and need reminding.

In May 2023, Nestlé removed claims from its website that its new KitKat breakfast cereal – which is 24.7% sugar – was “nutritious”. This followed criticism on Twitter by food writer and restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, who accused the company of taking the piss.

In an open letter to the company, the British Dental Association, Obesity Health Alliance and others stated:

“Nestlé removed its spurious nutritional claim from parts of its website following a consumer backlash but our food system should not be governed that way. If it were really following its mission statement, Nestlé would never have developed that product in the first place. There is no way that it could be seen as ‘enhanc(ing) quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come.”

Kellogg's takes on the government and loses over sugar content

As part of its anti-obesity strategy, the UK government introduced regulations on foods that are high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS foods). These place restrictions on how these foods can be sold and marketed, for example by banning two-for-one offers and limiting advertising hours. However, their introduction has been repeatedly delayed.

Despite these delays, Kellogg’s took the British government to court to challenge the application of the HFSS regulations to its products.

It argued that when milk is added to its cereals, the proportion of sugar in the overall serving goes down and they should therefore not be categorised as high-sugar foods. The judge didn’t swallow that, stating that “mixing a breakfast cereal which is high in, for example, sugar, with milk [does not] alter the fact that it is high in sugar.”

Choose flakes for high fibre

Despite being made from high-fibre grains, many popular cereals are low in fibre as the fibre is removed during processing.

At the other end of the cereal spectrum sit the humble flakes. Not the standard sugary toasted corn or bran flakes, but simply whole grains, rolled or cut into flakes, with nothing added (like sugar or salt), and nothing taken away (like fibre).

These flakes tend to be sold in much simpler packaging, will give you a healthier start to the day, and many are organically grown.

In the table below we list who sells wholefood flakes (and muesli mixes) and explain where you can buy them. Some brands add sweeteners in some products so do check the ingredients.

Types of flakes and muesli mixes
  Types of flakes Sold in
independent
health shops?
Sold direct
from its
website?
Organic options?
Essential Barley, oat, wheat (and muesli
mixes)
Yes Yes: 6 packs or
bulk
Yes
Hodmedod’s Oat, barley, wheat, spelt, rye,
quinoa
Yes Yes:  from 500g
to bulk
Yes
Infinity Barley, buckwheat, millet, oat,
spelt, quinoa, rice, rye, wheat
(and muesli mixes)
Yes   All
Suma Oats, millet, quinoa, wheat
(and muesli mixes)
Yes Yes: 500g to bulk Yes
Kallo Puffed organic rice Yes   All
BioFAIR Organic and fairtrade quinoa
flakes or pops
Yes   All

Simple British-grown ingredients

Hodmedod’s are based in Norfolk – hodmedod is Norfolk dialect for hedgehog – and sell UK-grown pulses, grains, and seeds.

They promote the growth and consumption of indigenous varieties of beans and peas that have fallen out of favour, and work with British farmers to trial growing non-native species such as quinoa.

They have also recently started selling Brazil nuts wild-harvested by the Kayapo people of the Amazon.

There are also other brands selling British-grown oats and other grains.

Vegan breakfast cereals

Your cereal probably is vegan, but the company behind it probably isn’t.

Most breakfast cereals are vegan, but some do contain non-vegan ingredients such as honey.

Some of the instant porridge options contain milk, and cereals with added vitamin D may not be vegan as vitamin D3 can be derived from sheep’s wool, so it’s always best to check the label.

Many brands now state that their cereals are vegan or list which of their products are, for example Shredded Wheat (Nestlé), Lizi’s (PepsiCo), Weetabix (Post Holdings), and Dorset Cereals (AB Foods).

But these companies are not vegan and scored poorly in our Animals category. Nestlé, PepsiCo, and AB Foods got worst ratings for animal rights, factory farming and animal testing, as did Kellogg’s. Post Holdings got worst ratings for animal rights and factory farming.

Vegan companies

Two brands, Alara and Hodmedod’s, got company ethos marks for being vegan companies.

 

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Image: bowl of cereal

Eco friendly cereals


Palm oil in breakfast cereal

Although breakfast cereals can be as simple as oats or puffed rice, there may be other ingredients lurking in there, such as palm oil.

The mass production of palm oil continues to cause the destruction of rainforests, which has wide-ranging impacts including biodiversity loss, human rights violations, and contributing to climate change.

Find out more about why palm oil is a controversial ingredient.

Our palm oil rating is more lenient for smaller companies, but for all sizes of company it requires that, as a minimum, all palm ingredients are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Although certification does not mean there will be no problems in the supply chain, it is likely to drive some improvements for the environment, animals, and people.

A number of cereal brands in this guide did not contain any palm oil, and scored a best rating, either because the whole company was palm oil free, or because other products it made or sold used only certified palm.

Best scoring companies for palm oil

Best scoring companies for palm oil
Companies
scoring best
for palm oil
All products
are palm
oil free
Medium size company using certified organic palm elsewhere in product range Wholesaler that sells other products containing certified palm, and uses none in own brand
Alara Yes    
Doves Farm   Yes  
Essential     Yes
Hodmedod’s Yes    
Infinity     Yes
MOMA Yes    
Rude Health Yes    
Windmill (Amisa, BioFair, Biona)   Yes  

With a number of our ethical ratings, we have tightened up the criteria over time. As an issue becomes better known and campaigns push companies to take action in their supply chains, we have to change the way we assess whether companies are doing enough.

With palm oil, we expect more from them than we used to – particularly from large companies which tend to use higher volumes of palm ingredients and have more resources to address the issue. This means that several companies that previously scored a best rating have dropped a rung or two. Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, and Ecotone now join five others who scored worst last time and still do now.

Worst scoring companies for palm oil

Worst scoring companies for palm oil
Companies scoring worst for
palm oil
Not
certifying
100% of
ingredients
Not certifying
enough to
higher RSPO
standards
Other reasons
Associated British Foods (Dorset Cereals, Jordans)   Yes  
Eat Natural (owned by Ferrero but doesn’t appear to be covered by its palm policy yet)     Uses palm but
no sustainability
information found
Kellogg's   Yes  
Nestlé Yes    
PepsiCo (Quaker, Oat So Simple, Scott’s, Lizi’s)   Yes  
Post (Weetabix, Alpen, Grape Nuts, ReadyBrek)   Yes  
Raisio (licensor of Honey Monster Puffs)   Yes  
Ecotone (Kallo, Whole Earth) Yes    

The two remaining companies, Mornflake and Suma, scored middle ratings.

Kellogg’s, Nestlé, General Mills, PepsiCo and Ferrero also lost marks in our human rights category for sourcing palm oil from one or both of two Brazilian companies alleged to have been involved in fraudulent land grabs and waging violent campaigns to silence Indigenous and traditional communities attempting to defend their ancestral lands.

image: palm oil plantation
Palm oil plantation (C) Greenpeace

GMOs in breakfast cereals

According to campaign group GM Freeze, a few breakfast cereals containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been spotted for sale in the UK but the vast majority do not contain GMOs.

GMO crops are not grown commercially in the UK and must be labelled on food packaging if the GMO content is above 0.9%. But the multinationals making breakfast cereals do business in countries where they are far less regulated, for example the USA. The following companies stated that GM products made up some part of their global business:

  • AB Foods (owner of Dorset Cereals and Jordans)
  • General Mills (which owns 50% of Nestlé cereals)
  • Nestlé (which owns the other 50% of Nestlé cereals)
  • PepsiCo (which owns Quaker, Oat so Simple, Scott’s and Lizi’s cereals)
  • Kellogg’s

All of these companies published a pro-GMO policy on their websites.

How eco friendly is breakfast cereal packaging?

Most companies use recyclable cardboard for their boxes, and some of this cardboard is already recycled.

But what about the inner bags? Manufacturers say inner bags keep the cereal airtight, prevent contamination and stop it going stale thus reducing food waste.

Most of the inner bags are made of plastic, usually high-density polyethylene film (the number two inside a recycling symbol). These bags can't be recycled at kerbside but can sometimes be taken to plastic bag collection points at large supermarkets.

Plastic packaging supports the oil industry from which plastic is made. According to WRAP, plastic production, use, and disposal contributes to about 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year. Microplastics are also widespread in the environment affecting both humans and animals.

What are cereal companies doing about packaging?

Kellogg’s says it’s reducing the thickness of its plastic inners to reduce its plastic use and moving to using more easily recycled plastics. They also say they are testing refillable cereal stations.

Weetabix has said that all the packaging across its portfolio is now 100% recyclable, two years ahead of its 2025 target. Which means its cardboard boxes can be recycled at home and its plastic wrappers can now be recycled with soft plastics at most supermarkets.

Nestlé is piloting refillable vending machines in Indonesia, but in the UK it has reduced its cardboard and plastic packaging use by just making the boxes smaller – or more appropriate to the amount of cereal inside them! It also says its inner bags can be recycled at supermarkets’ soft plastic collection points.

We couldn’t find out why its Shredded Wheat brand is wrapped in paper but its other brands like Cheerios are wrapped in plastic.

Many companies, including smaller ones like like Infinity Foods, Doves Farm, and Rude Health, are moving towards soft plastics that can be recycled.

But less than 10% of all plastics are recycled. The most commonly recycled are HDPE milk containers and PET bottles for which there are kerbside collections by most councils. The sort of recycling needed for soft plastics is nowhere near so widespread. And even if plastic food packaging is recycled, it can only be recycled a number of times before it becomes unusable and it can’t be used again as food packaging. So, is there another answer than recyclable plastic?

Alternative packaging

  • Alara uses plastic-free film made of eucalyptus cellulose which is home compostable.
  • Shredded Wheat has paper inner wrappers in a cardboard box. If paper is good enough for Shredded Wheat, why isn’t it good enough for other brands?
  • Is there a need for an inner bag or individual wrappers at all? Quaker Oats and Scott's Porage oats just come in a cardboard box and so are plastic free. Other oats come in paper bags.

Low packaging options

It’s always better to reduce and reuse than to recycle.

  • Buy your cereal loose from zero waste, weigh-and-save or refill shops and keep it in an airtight reusable container.
  • Buy bigger packs of cereal and avoid single serve packs like variety packs or boxes with individual sachets.
  • Buy cereals with the minimum amount of packaging, i.e. a bag or a box, not both.
  • Eat more oats (but not in individual ready-made sachets or pots).
Two children eating breakfast cereal at table

Ethical cereal brands


Ethical brands are often cheaper

Some of the worst performing brands on our score table are among the most expensive and our best buys are pretty reasonable. When we checked on the Sainsbury’s website in July, Kellogg’s Frosties were 70p per 100 g (and 37% of that is sugar!) and Nestlé Honey Cheerios were 77p per 100 g.

Compare that to Alara’s organic fruit and seeds muesli which was only 46p per 100 g. Dorset Cereals simply fruity muesli, a more directly comparable product, was more expensive at 54p per 100 g. Quaker porridge oats were 28p per 100 g and we found Essential organic porridge oats online for the same price. So, in many cases, the ethical – and healthy – option will save you some money too.

Typical prices of some cereals and flakes
Brand Price per 100 g
Nestlé Honey Cheerios 77p
Kellogg’s Frosties 70p
Dorset Cereals muesli 54p
Alara organic muesli 46p
Quaker porridge oats 28p
Essential organic
porridge oats
28p

The score table gives ratings and details on ethical issues for different brands. For example how the different brands rate on tax, political lobbying and greenhouse gases.

How ethical are supermarket own brand breakfast cereals?

Ethical ratings for supermarkets can be found in the supermarket guide.

No supermarket scores very well, although there's still a difference with the scores ranging from 0 to 5 points (out of 20), for the main high street companies.

We have not included supermarket own brand breakfast cereals in this guide as we have limited resources and the guide already has nearly 40 brands in it. We last reviewed supermarkets in winter 2021 and will review them again in 2024.

If you do buy your cereals from supermarkets, use the supermarket guide to help you, if you have a choice locally of which supermarket to use. Also look at sugar levels, vegan and organic options, and packaging, for the individual products.

Tax

Nestlé and General Mills (makers of Nestlé cereals) both got worst ratings for likely tax avoidance as did Kellogg’s, PepsiCo (Lizi's, Quakers, Scott's), AB Foods (Dorset Cereals, Jordans), and Eat Natural owner, Ferrero. The Ferrero company, owned by Italy’s richest man, Giovanni Ferrero, has been criticised in the past for offshoring its UK profits to avoid paying tax here.

Ecotone, which owns Kallo and Whole Earth, got a best rating but its majority shareholder, the private equity firm PAI Partners, got a worst rating.

Political donations and lobbying

The US companies and Nestlé lost marks for political donations and lobbying. Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Nestlé, and General Mills lost whole marks and Post Holdings (Alpen, Grape Nuts, Oatibix, Ready Brek, Weetabix) lost half a mark. PepsiCo spent the most on lobbying: over US$4 million in 2022.

Greenhouse gas emissions on the rise for big food companies

All of the big food companies in this guide have ambitious targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but many are struggling to do so. While they are making progress reducing emissions in their own operations by switching to renewable energy and becoming more efficient, emissions generated in their supply chains tend to be on the up.

Under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, these ‘indirect’ supply chain emissions are known as ‘scope 3’. For food companies, these include all the emissions generated by the agricultural products that go into their goods and often account for almost all of their emissions.

Analysis by Just Food of nine of the world’s biggest food companies’ emissions found that their combined carbon footprints had increased by 7% on average in 2021 and that most of this came from the growth of scope 3 emissions. Kellogg’s, Nestlé and General Mills (Shreddies, Shredded Wheat, Cheerios), and PepsiCo (Quaker, Oat So Simple, Scott's, Lizi’s) were amongst the nine. PepsiCo’s scope 3 emissions increased by 7% in 2021, those of General Mills and Kellogg’s were both up by 4%, and Nestlé’s were unchanged.

According to the companies, the increases were due to growth in sales.

Is regenerative agriculture the answer?

In order to meet their carbon targets, companies will have to make large cuts to the emissions produced in their agricultural supply chains and they are turning to regenerative agriculture to help them do this.

Regenerative agriculture is not a clearly defined term and understandings of it differ. Broadly, it refers to agricultural practices that are not only sustainable but, in some way, restore the environment. These practices have the potential to develop the soil as a carbon sink and thereby cut emissions and it’s this that makes them attractive to big food companies.

But for many, regenerative agriculture also involves political goals such as shifting power within the food system away from big companies and towards rural communities, farmers and farm workers; its adoption by large corporate interests strips regenerative agriculture of these broader aims. And while it may mean the companies end up a bit greener, it will do nothing to address the socio-economic injustices and exploitative structures of the food system.

Nestle's net zero target: genuine or greenwash?

In 2022, Nestlé reported GHG emissions close to three times those of its home country, Switzerland. Over 95% of these were from scope 3.

The company has a target of net zero emissions by 2050 but its plans to achieve this have been criticised for their poor transparency and integrity and for failing to address the company’s massive reliance on livestock. Nestlé is one of the biggest dairy processors in the world and, as a result, methane from the cattle in its supply chains makes up a high proportion of its emissions.

A report by the Changing Markets Foundation found that the company has been using some dubious accounting to project a much bigger cut to its livestock-associated emissions than it will actually make.

According to the report, the figures indicate that the company is actually planning to increase its reliance on livestock and to use measures such as feed additives and manure management to reduce its methane emissions, rather than shifting away from dairy to more plant-based products.

The report concludes that on this basis “Nestlé’s net-zero strategy will ultimately fail to make a meaningful dent in its huge emissions” and questions whether it’s anything other than greenwash.

Make your own cereal

You can use these flakes to make your own muesli. It’s actually very easy to do and it means you can avoid the high sugar brands and leave out any ingredients you don’t like.

Muesli is just a raw mix of rolled whole grains, dried fruit, seeds, and nuts. Try: four parts grain + one part seeds and nuts + one part dried fruit.

You can make it up in a bowl each day, changing what you add, or make a tub or jar of it in advance.

Company behind the brand

Associated British Foods (AB Foods) owns the Jordans and Dorset Cereals brands.

Its Jordans website has an animated bumble bee buzzing around the home page and its page on the Jordans farm partnership discusses how it works to protect nature and the importance of insects for pollination.

AB Foods’s subsidiary British Sugar has regularly lobbied the government for emergency authorisation to use a pesticide containing the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam which has been banned by the EU for all outdoor use since 2018 because of its negative environmental impacts, particularly the harm it does to bees.

The ultimate owner of the company’s major shareholder is the charitable Garfield Weston Foundation. This received a company ethos mark for its not-for-profit structure, but AB Foods is a for-profit company.

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] or [F] in the score table after a brand name means the product has been awarded a sustainability point for being organic and/or fair trade.