It’s been the nation’s breakfast energy boost for nearly a century, but Weetabix’s focus these days is increasingly on saving energy as it moves closer to creating the first carbon neutral box of cereal.
The Burton Latimer company is on track to put the first ‘net-zero’ box of Weetabix Original on the shelves some time in the next couple of years, but it started out on the journey to that achievement many years ago, because sustainability and environmental protection has long been a priority.
It has been a proud boast for some time that every grain of wheat that goes into the Weetabix Original is grown within 50 miles of the factory. The Weetabix Growers Group is a collective of farmers who operate to specific standards to produce exactly the right quality wheat required by the cereal maker. During the past decade, more than 350 farmers have participated in the scheme, growing somewhere in the region of 75,000 metric tonnes of wheat each year across more than four million acres of fields.
Having worked on improvements over the past few years driven by carbon neutral goals, such as the factory generating around 80% of its own power and sending nothing to landfill, Weetabix is ready to take the next step.
John Petre, Supply Chain, Procurement and Technical Director at Weetabix, pictured left, said: “Sustainability has always been part of our DNA, and when, about five years ago, we started to put together a focused plan to reduce our carbon footprint we realised that we had been hiding our light under a bushel to a large extent.
“When we looked at wheat production, energy usage, packaging and waste, we realised that we had a real opportunity to get to net zero simply by doing the things we knew we already did. Getting to carbon neutral makes both good business and sustainability sense.”
All Weetabix products use 100% wholegrain and have done since the company was founded in 1932. In addition to the original biscuits, Weetabix now produces banana, chocolate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup flavours; Crispy Minis in chocolate chip and fruit and nut varieties; Chocolate Melts; Oatibix and Oatibix Flakes; a Protein range and On The Go drinks.
Over the past five years, the instantly recognisable packaging has gone from being 90% recyclable to 100%. The factory produces the vast majority of its own power, including the steam that is used to bake the actual products.
The company has sent nothing to landfill since 2016 and surplus stock goes to community initiatives, including charity partners FareShare and Magic Breakfast, while any food waste is turned into animal feed.
Weetabix is proud to be part of the UK food industry and certainly proud to be a Northamptonshire business, reflected by the fact it is sponsoring the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards for the second year running.
“Sustainability is something that has become increasingly important,” said John. “We get asked more and more by our employees and our stakeholders, suppliers and customers about what we’re doing. It was interesting to see that in reapplying for our Royal Warrant a couple of years ago, we had to answer many more questions than before about our sustainability approach.
“We start by partnering with our growers, who have helped us blaze a trail in developing an essential Wheat Protocol. We work with them to look at the carbon footprint of the wheat and how it can be improved. If we can get the wheat to carbon zero or carbon negative, then we are only a year or two away from being carbon zero ourselves.
“I believe there’s commercial potential in doing new things and pushing the boundaries, so there is plenty of interest in what farmers can do. Many of the farmers who supply us are also working with other customers, so any learning or innovation we help them achieve will also benefit others in the supply chain.
“Because of the way we have always done things at Weetabix, we realise now that we had a good story to tell and were not really shouting about it. Now that we have our net zero roadmap, we can take those important extra steps to reduce our impact and get better recognition for the work we are doing as a business, which ultimately translates into more sustainable choices for consumers.”