Below are my top 5 most ethical supermarkets and online food companies. From organic-only supermarkets to supermarkets that help in the community.
Waitrose is a member of the John Lewis partnership and as such, it is owned by its employees(called partners). The majority of any profits are paid out in bonuses to these partners, which results in great customer service as the employees have a sense of ownership.
Environmentally they are working very hard at reducing plastic waste. See the below extract from their website.
‘Making sure our packaging works and is fit for purpose is just part of my job. The other part is ensuring we meet our targets for making it as environmentally friendly as we can. We’ve pledged that by 2023, all own-label packaging will be widely recycled, reusable or home compostable, so we’re working with our suppliers and packaging manufacturers, looking at alternatives to plastics,’ says Karen Graley, Partner and packaging manager.
In addition, they’ve launched the Plan Plastic Fund with £1 million in grants available to projects aimed at reducing plastic waste.
Waitrose is also very big with regards to the environment and sustainability. They have a targeted plan to get to zero carbon emissions by 2050. you can see the timeline of what they are doing to get there here. They also aim to source all off their products such as Soya, palm oil, fish and cotton amongst others. In fact, they publish an annual corporate responsibility report, which is accessible here.
Planet Organic is a small chain of London based stores that sell exclusively organic products. However, despite being London based they offer shipping to many parts of the UK. As a completely organic store, bar wild-caught game and sustainably sourced wild fish which are unable to be certified, they can sell loose packaged products that you can be 100% confident is organic as there is no risk of cross-contamination. They also aim to be as natural as possible below is a statement from their website on this.
No to processed foods, no to hydrogenated fats and a big, fat no to GM.
We do not only sell organic packaged foods, although there are minimum product standards that apply to every single product that we sell. We have never sold anything that contained artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colours, flavours or anything else. Likewise we have never sold foods filled with hydrogenated fats, and we have always said a big NO to GMO. We continue to avoid all GM crops, as well as all meat from animals that have been fed GMO.
They are also trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible as you can read below.
It’s not always easy being green. We were disappointed in the late Nineties that our cargo bike delivery service didn’t take off. We have struggled so many times to donate food waste to London shelters, and we deal with different recycling restrictions in each of the London Boroughs that we have stores in. However, over the years there have been some marvellous successes.
We said goodbye to plastic bags years ago, and use fully recycled paper bags for all your grocery shopping. We use food containers made from bagasse, a sugar cane waste material in our café’s, and to be honest got a bit too excited when we found the first compostable take-away coffee cup lid. It’s the little things…
And it’s not just what we do. Encouraging our suppliers to move towards re-usable delivery boxes saves around 10 bales of compressed cardboard a day, while our sales of Life Water, a drop for drop not-for profit organisation, have so far provided clean-drinking water to 1200 people as part of the Gopavaram Community Well Project in Andra Pradesh.
Wholefoods, like Planet Organic is a chain of London based shops. Unlike Planet Organic it is part of a much larger USA chain, which has recently been bought by Amazon. They have high standards and try to minimize packaging and sourced as sustainably as possible. They are very good with animal welfare standards and sustainable fishing. Additionally, they support lots of up and coming artisan brands. For a comprehensive list of all the standards, they adhere to click here. You can’t order directly online with them, but you can order their products via Amazon Fresh.
Ocado is the biggest online-only supermarket in the UK. They provide a vast array of over 60,000 products including many organic and vegan options. As they are online-only it avoids a lot of waste. The following extract is from their corporate site.
In 2018 just 0.029% of food as a percentage of total sales was wasted. We’re committed to ensuring no food goes into landfill; inedible food is sent to anaerobic digestion, and edible food is redistributed. We redistributed 1,721 tonnes of food surplus in FY18, with over 90 tonnes of fresh and ambient food surplus donated to food banks and charities through our Donate Food with Ocado scheme. Since the scheme launched in December 2014, we’ve donated over 180 tonnes of food, demonstrating our commitment to strengthening food partnerships in the past 12 months. We contributed a total of £18,000 to support the Courtauld 2025 Commitment, a voluntary agreement that brings together organisations across the food system – from producer to consumer – to strive for more sustainable food and drink consumption.
One of the unfortunate things is that they use plastic carrier bags in their delivery system. However as you can see fom the extract below they do this a sustainably as possible.
Our customers’ shopping makes its journey to homes across the UK in crates, each lined with three single-use carrier bags. Crates move around our automated, temperature-controlled Customer Fulfillment Centres, with items added along the way.
Carrier bags segregate and protect goods from damage during the picking process. They allow us to separate potentially hazardous products from edible ones, complying with UK and EU legislation. They also allow our Customer Service Team Members to safely carry groceries into our customers’ homes.
Carrier bags are currently an integral part of our operation. We continue to research and trial alternative bag materials and containers, although none so far have proven to be as efficient or as cost-effective. With this in mind, we have launched several initiatives to combat plastic bag littering and unnecessary waste.
Recycling programme Since 2007, when delivering shopping our Customer Service Team Members have been asking customers to hand back used carrier bags to be recycled into new Ocado bags. This includes carrier bags from other retailers, which is one of the reasons why our carrier bags are grey. The muted colour means we don’t have to bleach the raw plastic. 87% of bags are returned for recycling.
Our recycling programme is carried out here in the UK, rather than China, where the bulk of plastics are currently recycled. We are satisfied that this keeps “supply chain miles” and carbon emissions to a minimum.
As you can see they are trying their best to minimise waste and they do eliminate a lot of this by not having large power-hungry physical stores where food is wasted at a local level.
The Co-Op is a member-owned company. It costs £1 to join and that gives you an equal vote with other members on how it’s run. They do a lot of work in local communities 1% of purchases of Co-Op branded product is spent on local causes. In the last year, this amounted to £17million. As well as their charitable donations they are also trying to be as sustainable and ethical as possible.
They’re changing the way their products are packaged replacing plastic and polystyrene with cardboard and foil. They’re also rolling out compostable carrier bags.
They give food about to go out of date to local charities as per their policy below.
None of us can afford to throw away good food. That’s why our stores give products that are going out of date to local community groups at the end of each day to prevent food waste, so far we’ve given away over 3m meals and counting.
In addition to the top 5 most ethical supermarkets listed above below are two more food delivery options that might be of interest.
Approved Food, is slightly different to the other companies here. It’s a clearance house of near or just past best before items that would otherwise end up in landfill. You can buy big name brands at extremely low prices, with the knowledge that those products have been saved from landfill. As these are surplus products, availability changes on a daily basis.
Food Box companies
If you’re just after food for a special event or dinner please have a look at an earlier article detailing the most ethical food box companies. You can find the article here.
I appreciate any feedback and would like to know who makes your list of the top 5 most ethical supermarkets.