Allied Bakeries: Carbon foot printing a catalyst for efficiency

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Greenhouse gas emissions Carbon dioxide

Allied Bakeries: Carbon foot printing a catalyst for efficiency
Analysing the carbon footprint of Kingsmill loaves has helped Allied Bakeries squeeze out additional cost savings that it would not have extracted through traditional continuous improvement techniques, its operations director has claimed.

Speaking to two years after his firm first started adding footprint labels to three top-selling loaves, operations director Nick Law said the foot printing work had given staff a fresh impetus.

“All food manufacturers are always looking at how to reduce costs, but looking at carbon as a starting point has been a real catalyst to make us ask different questions.”

The firm, which has been auditing emissions throughout the supply chain for three best-selling Kingsmill loaves, has identified several ways to save money, from using more efficient ovens, boilers and lighting to adding lagging to pipe work to prevent heat loss and using more fuel-efficient and aerodynamic vehicles and driving techniques, he said.

It has also reduced road miles by producing a wider product range from each of the bakeries from which it distributes to cut inter-bakery journeys.

But what do the labels mean to shoppers?

While many manufacturers are calculating their carbon footprints in order to identify cost savings and meet CSR commitments, not all of them appear to be convinced that this information is necessarily worth putting on already-crowded product labels.

However, Allied begged to differ, he said.

“In the short term, it’s not about consumers comparing footprints, as relatively few products carry labels at the moment. It’s about awareness; we are informing our customers and our consumers that we are actively measuring our environmental impact and we are serious about reducing it.”

And this in itself could confer competitive advantage, he said. “There is a difference between brands that are doing something and brands that are not.

“Longer-term, when more products are labelled, people will be comparing between products more. But it’s like traffic lights and GDAs: a lot of people probably didn’t get them to start with, but these things take time.”

Plug and play: Primary and secondary data

While it took time and money to produce accurate carbon footprints based on primary data, the process would speed up – and costs would come down – as the practice became more widespread, he said.

More secondary ‘off the peg’ greenhouse gas emissions data for transport and widely-used ingredients and packaging materials was also becoming available, he added.

“There is lots of data out there although it is all over the place, in academic journals and government reports. It would be nice to have it all in one place.

“However, we don’t want to rely on secondary data or take too many short cuts the whole point of doing the lifecycle analysis work and getting all the primary data was to help us benefit by becoming more efficient​ [rather than generating data purely for the sake of putting it on a label]."

The primary data had also thrown up some interesting consumer insights, notably that 8% of shoppers stored bread in the fridge, which speeded up the staling process and reduced product shelf-life, he said.

On a practical level, meanwhile, firms needed a certain amount of primary data if they wanted to use the PAS 2050* standard for measuring carbon footprints, he said.

While there had been legitimate concerns in the past about the reliability of this data, PAS 2050 was sufficiently robust that firms could now trust footprint labels generated by rivals if they had used the same standard, he said. “I would feel confident if people used PAS 2050, as it is quite prescriptive. Before, two people could do an assessment of the same product and you’d probably get two very different results.”

The results: 50:50 loaf has the lowest footprint

The lifecycle analysis work, which was conducted by Allied Bakeries, Allied Mills (also part of Associated British Foods) and carbon reduction company Sustain, revealed that there was not actually a great deal of difference between 800g white loaves (1.3kg carbon dioxide), 800g 50:50 loaves (c.1.2kg) and 800g wholemeal loaves (1.3kg), said Law.

“There are differences between flour types due to yields, in that the amount of white flour you will get from a kilo of wheat will be less than the amount of wholemeal flour you get, so wholemeal is more efficient in carbon terms.

“But in our case, this is offset because we add kibbled wheat to our wholemeal loaves, which has a higher carbon footprint.”

Tesco ploughs lonely furrow

While all of the major supermarkets are working on footprinting initiatives, Tesco remains the only major supermarket to commit to rolling out carbon footprint labels on pack.

Asda, Sainsbury's, The Co-op Group and M&S all say they have no plans to follow suit, citing concerns about overcrowded product labels and confusion amongst shoppers.

The Co-operative Group told last year: "We are committed to carbon footprinting and have carried out research relating to the issue. However, we would prefer to act on the findings to reduce the carbon emissions associated with our products, not simply label them."

*Sustain used a life-cycle-analysis approach to the foot printing work in line with PAS 2050 and the Carbon Trust's ‘footprint expert’ methodology.PAS 2050 provides a method for assessing the greenhouse gas emissions arising from products across their life cycle, from sourcing of raw materials through production, distribution, use and recycling or waste disposal.

Related topics Processing & packaging

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