Among gains for the private-equity owned firm, whose snack brands include Twiglets and Mini-cheddars, are those in carbon emissions, packaging reductions, food transport miles and particularly food waste.
"By making operational as well as behavioural changes we have improved the way we use resources and have reduced waste," said Jeff van der Eems, UB’s chief operating officer.
Seen as a way to meet growing environmental concerns as well as potentially driving down costs and bringing savings to the bottom line, food makers in general are working on methods to evolve manufacturing models with a sustainable back-drop.
In 2008 United Biscuits launched a road-map, with "ambitious targets" to reduce the impact that "its operations have on the environment and move towards sustainability."
The company's commitments were articulated in six areas: reducing CO2 emissions and energy use; cutting waste sent to landfill; a reduction in water use; reducing packaging waste; increasing use of 'environmentally friendly transport' and boosting sustainable sourcing.
One year on, the company that has 11 factories in the UK, and four others in Northern Europe, reports it has made "excellent, tangible progress in the first year since setting targets" including an increase in the food waste recycling rates in the UK from 97 per cent to 99.5 per cent.
The firm, aiming for a 35 per cent reduction in UK carbon emissions by 2020 compared with 1995, reports that carbon emissions fell by three per cent in 2008. The reductions were achieved by reducing energy used in sites, such as installing motion sensors for lighting to reduce wasted energy, and "installing new and more efficient proprietary oven burners."
"The ovens are bespoke for United Biscuits at its Harlesden, North London biscuit factory that makes brands such Digestives, Rich Tea and Mini-cheddars," a spokesperson tells BakeryAndSnacks.com.
The spokesperson adds that the hope is to roll out the ovens, designed to 'recapture' the heat this is used in baking the biscuits, to other biscuit making factories.
Outside of the UK, the firm is aiming for a 25 per cent reduction in Northern Europe carbon emissions by 2020 compared to 2000. United Biscuits report this end "the target has been met ahead of schedule" with a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2000.
In order to reduce carbon emissions at its factories in Zaandam, The Netherlands and Lambermont, Belgium, UB changed the power supply from conventional generators to wind and hydro power electricity suppliers.
UK food waste recycling hits 99.5 per cent Aiming to achieve zero food waste to landfill by 2010 and achieve zero non-food waste to landfill by 2015, UB reported that in 2008 it has increased the food waste recycling rates in the UK from 97 per cent to 99.5 per cent, "proving it is in sight of achieving its target of sending zero food waste to landfill by 2010."
Further, the snack maker reports in the UK non-food waste recycling has increased to 90 per cent. In Northern Europe it rose from 44 per cent to 88 per cent.
Re-engineering of Hula Hoops multipacks brings cardboard savings
UB said it has re-engineered the multipacks of snack brand Hula Hoops to "enable them to be packed more efficiently" in cardboard cases. According to the firm, using fewer cases has resulted in a saving of 400 tonnes of corrugated cardboard cases.
In turn, cutting the number of cases has also reduced the number of pallets by 40,700 per year. This in turn has reduced lorry movements by 783 in 2008.
UB also introduced a new packaging format for its Jacob’s Biscuits for Cheese brand, replacing the original 500g plastic tubs with a new carton board box. The biscuit maker reports the move has engendered a 50 per cent reduction in total packaging weight, with 150 tonnes of the new material used annually compared to 300 tonnes of plastic packaging. In addition, UB adds the new format is 100 per cent recyclable.
UB has also replaced the tray inside the box with a "fully recyclable tray", which "still effectively protects and holds the biscuits in place." In addition to the packaging surrounding tubs of biscuits, UB reports the introduction of recyclable non-polycoated board packaging for other products within the range brought an additional 87 tonnes of packaging savings a year. The transition to recyclable board, affirms UB, will be rolled out across other assorted products where polycoated board is currently used. Last year United Biscuits set the target to reduce packaging by 20 per cent by 2015 compared with 2003.
In terms of water use, which the company aims to slash by 25 per cent by 2020 compared with 2007, UB reports it cut water consumption by 17 per cent last year "through a number of technical and behavioural changes". Changes include repairing water leakage and fitting spray nozzles to taps to reduce water use as well as investments in water filtering and recycling.
UB and Nestle transport-sharing initiative removes 'empty lorries'
UB, bought in 2006 by private equity firms Blackstone and PAI, reports that in 2008 it reduced its annual logistics mileage by 1.3 million miles through "improved transport network design and vehicle utilisation, aided by satellite tracking systems and driver training."
The firm claims since 2005 UB has reduced it lorry miles by 3 million, leading to a 19 per cent decrease in emissions, the equivalent to 4,700 tonnes of CO2.
A transport sharing initiative with Nestle also "removes empty running lorries from the roads."
Today, UB vehicles move loads from Nestle’s York and Halifax factories to Nestle’s National Distribution Centre in Leicestershire. An initiative that the firm claims saves approximately 30,000 road miles a year.
“In 2008 we successfully developed backhauling with suppliers and drove transport collaboration with customers and other food manufacturers. This transport sharing has removed 350,000 miles this year and will mean fewer food transport miles in the future,” said Rob Wright, UB’s national logistics controller. And flipping to biodiesel, UB reports it now uses all of its waste vegetable oil, converted for use as bio diesel, to fuel its lorries.
Sedex auditing for ethical supply chain
Aiming to ensure that new and existing ingredients suppliers "have strict ethical standards and are working towards sustainable growing" the firm said in 2008 it continued to audit suppliers through the Sedex system.
Sedex, the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange, is a non-profit organisation established in 2001 by a group of UK retailers and their first tier suppliers to share ethical data pitched at businesses eager to improve their ethical performance.
UB also reported that its suppliers must also comply with the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code, which, among a range of criteria, requires that no child labour is used and that working conditions are safe and hygienic.