The UK bakery manufacturers aiming to hit that net zero target

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Many of the UK's biggest industrial bakery manufacturers are stepping up to achieve net zero status. Pic: GettyImages
Many of the UK's biggest industrial bakery manufacturers are stepping up to achieve net zero status. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Baker & Baker Bakkavör Warburtons Associated british foods Net zero Carbon footprint Greenhouse gas Energy Bakery sector Sustainability

UK government data shows that nearly a third of the UK’s largest businesses have pledged to tackle climate change by eliminating their contribution to carbon emissions by 2050, with several bakery operations standing up to be counted among them.

Baker & Baker, Bakkavor, Warburtons and Associated British Food (ABF) are among those to have set their sights on achieving net zero status.

The UK industrial bakery sector produces more than 2.5 million tonnes of baked goods each year, but in doing so, literally eats up energy, which causes it to emit vast quantities of carbon emissions.

Data generated for The Carbon Trust’s Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA) report estimates the UK industrial bakery sector consumes around 2,000 GWh of energy, equating to yearly emissions of approximately 570,000 tonnes of CO2​ (tCO2). The vast majority of this comes from bakery ovens, but also the prover, oven, cooler and associated steam boiler plant (50%-60% of total carbon emissions).

‘Decarbonising our business operations’

John Lindsay - CEO of Baker  Baker (4)
John Lindsay

Sweet bakery manufacturer Baker & Baker has pledged to achieve net zero status by 2040, enroute setting interim targets of a 42% reduction in industrial emissions and 27% in agricultural emissions by 2030.

The Wirral-headquartered company - which has operations across the EU - has conducted a detailed carbon footprint exercise for its group activities. Defining its baseline carbon emissions for the year 2021, it is currently mapping progress to calculate 2022 emissions.

It claims that more than 95% of its total emissions are attributable to its ingredients portfolio and fall within Scope 3 emissions. This is in line with the majority of large bakery businesses and the long-term challenge will be how to effectively decarbonise the ingredients supply chain.

Baker & Baker will be validating its net zero target against the Science Based Targets  initiative (SBTi) later this year, which will ensure its net zero roadmap is credible and aligned with industry best practice and climate science.

“Setting a net zero target is a significant milestone for Baker & Baker,”​ said CEO John Lindsay.

“Our net zero target of 2040 is line with many of our customers’ commitments - as well as the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) - and demonstrates our ambition to decarbonise our business operations whilst contributing positively towards tackling the climate emergency.”

Earlier this year, Baker & Baker announced a partnership with Fareshare ​to collect surplus stock and ingredients from its four production sites in the UK for redistribution across a national network of charities.

Baker & Baker - Steve Barkley and Dennis Foley from FareShare

‘We continue to listen and act so that we can play our part’

Warburtons is striving to be a net zero business by 2050.

The business - founded in Bolton in 1876 - has already reduced its CO2​ emissions by 20% over the past decade by ‘buying better, using less and self-generating more energy’.

The electricity it uses come from zero carbon renewable sources and is certified by a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO); an internal energy efficient programme identified opportunities to increase oven insulations and automatically shut down gas burners; and plant waste is used to heat hot water systems.

According to Warburtons, its investments in renewable energy through solar and wind power, in addition to Combined Heat and Power (CHP) technology, has enabled it to reduce electricity emissions from its bakeries by 56.2%.

The Warburtons Foundation was set up in 2022 to support communities across the country with financial support, product donations and educational programmes through hubs like food banks and breakfast clubs at schools.

The company reached its target of donating one million products to community groups​ in November 2022, raising its game with a donation goal of 1.25 million products by October 2023. And to help even more struggling families, Warburtons has partnered with UK retail giant Morrisons to give away crumpets over the summer school holidays.

Warburtons and school children

“Things are difficult for so many families at the moment and we recognise how vital it is that we continue to listen and act so that we can play our part in supporting families across the country as best we can,”​ said Jonathan Warburton, chairman of the UK’s largest bakery brand.

‘At the heart of a resilient future’

Back in 2021, Bakkavor made the commitment to net zero across its group operations - UK, US and China - by 2040. The company operates 45 sites and its 2022 product portfolio comprised around 2,900 products.

Like other bakery manufacturers, Bakkavor’s biggest impact on the climate comes from the energy used at its production sites to power machinery, ovens and lighting.

The London-head quartered company introduced a quarterly group carbon footprint analysis as part of its roadmap to net zero and has already reported sizeable reductions in carbon emissions and food waste during 2022.

Supported by investment in energy initiatives and refrigeration upgrades, Bakkavor managed to decrease its net carbon emissions in the UK by 15.3% compared to 2021 levels. Food waste levels across the group are on course to halve by 2030, already down 15.8% year-on-year. The company has also increased redistribution of surplus food by almost 10% during 2022, with the equivalent of 360,000 meals going to various charities.

Additionally, Bakkavor has strengthened its commitment to ensure zero deforestation and conversion-free sourcing of ingredients like palm oil and soy by 2025; and a move to carton board-based packaging, which will remove 2,429 tonnes of plastic from its UK business (a 12% reduction in total volume).

“While 2023 presents its own challenges, we are confident that our ESG agenda strengthens and compliments Bakkavor’s business strategy,​ helping the company to fulfil its purpose and grow in a positive and sustainable way,”​ said Caroline Carson, head of Group ESG strategy for Bakkavor.

Added Agust Gudmundsson, CEO of Bakkavor Group, “I fully support business efforts in supporting an ambitious climate change agenda, both in the run up to COP26 and beyond. I also look forward to working collaboratively with our customers, suppliers and partners to demonstrate that Net Zero must be at the heart of a resilient future.”


‘Doing the right thing here and now’

It is the belief of chief executive George Weston that Associated British Foods (ABF) “absolutely can reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”,​ if not much sooner.

Founded in 1935 as a bakery business, its Ingredients division is the world’s second-largest producer of both sugar and baker’s yeast and a major producer of ingredients like emulsifiers, enzymes and lactose. Its Grocery division comprises consumer-facing businesses that manufacture household brands like Kingsmill, Allinson’s and Ryvita, among others.

The company has a long history of focusing on issues like energy efficiency and reusing and recycling waste.

“Acting responsibly towards people and the planet is not a new concept for us, indeed many of our environmental and social initiatives started out long before the terms ‘sustainability’ or ‘ESG’ became mainstream,​” wrote Weston in the company’s 2022 Responsibility Report.

Scope 1 emissions: those that a company makes directly. Scope 2: those made indirectly, such as buying energy. Scope 3: sources that are external, such as those across the supply chain.

While ABF has not forged a groupwide climate-related target but set individual targets that are appropriate to its various operations, the overall plan is to use energy more efficiently and switching to renewables in its operations and supply chain to reduce GHG emissions.

AB Sugar and ABF’s UK Grocery businesses are the biggest contributors to its total Scope 1 and Scope 2 GHG emissions and are shooting for a 30% and 50% reduction by 2030, respectively. Collectively, this will help ABF achieve a 32% reduction in its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030, which puts it well on the road to achieve its 2050 net zero status.

“Our food and ingredients businesses are highly efficient at maximising the value that can be derived from the crops and raw materials they use,”​ said Weston.

“This makes good commercial sense and it is also aligned with best practice environmental principles, prioritising waste prevention and reuse wherever possible.

“At ABF, maximising value starts with our belief that the actions we take today will define the world we encounter tomorrow. We understand the value of long-term planning, but we also place great value in taking action and doing the right thing here and now.”

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