Do you read labels? To count calories, check fat content or to track carbohydrates? We give those percentages a quick browse and decide if it's a good fit for our chosen lifestyle... We dare not look at the ingredients. Because we know. Apart from the fact that we cannot make head or tail of what some of them actually are, we know they shouldn't be there. But we buy. Because we're in a hurry. And because change is hard.
We stick our heads in the sand and hope for the best! I know!! I do it too. As a chef and lover of good food, I have always been aware of ingredients in products. What's in it, where is it made, when was it made? Yet I too choose to look the other way when my kids tuck into their favourite big brand biscuits, crisps or instant pasta.
Hard to believe that we still do this. We know now more than ever what an impact it has on our health! Not to mention the environment – it certainly feels like information overload! So much to consider as a consumer that at times it leaves us confused and frustrated. And then we often just don't bother. Sound familiar?
Late 2018 when the Iceland Foods advert about the little orangutan went viral on the internet after being banned on TV, we suddenly took note. How many of us have heard about the destruction caused when producing palm oil, but only really started taking it seriously after the adorable little 'Rang-Tan' told us the heart-wrenching story about his habitat that was no more.
I watched it over and over and knew we as a company needed to make a decision. We stand for everything freshly made from scratch, using only the best locally sourced ingredients. We're passionate about real food, non-GMO foods, not adding any preservatives, yet we were overlooking one problematic ingredient. An ingredient that crept unintentionally into everything we make.
Up until that point we were using a good brand of vegetable fat from a local supplier – and a lot of it. It was in our baking, our sauces, our pastry. Made from? Palm Fruit. Just like every other brand of margarine that is out there, we subsequently discovered. And of course butter tastes better in everything- but when cooking or baking for profit, it makes little sense to pay nearly R140 more per kilogram for an ingredient that probably only the connoisseurs will recognise the taste of in a cooked product. Of course this all change when there is suddenly an ethical issue as well. So in the end the decision was an easy one. We just had to trust that our customers would be with us on this!!
It wasn't a gradual changeover. The one day we were still using margarine, the next day butter only. So although some of our labels might still list vegetable fat, it's only because we're phasing out the labels, not the vegetable fat. Since that day we've only used butter in our factory. (Our junior range was always butter only – so nothing had to change there)
The next hurdle was a big one. Chocolate. The main ingredient in one of our best sellers. You guessed it, our well loved Brownies. We'd replaced the baking margarine with butter already, but the big brand chocolate we used, a brand we never compromised on as I believe I could immediately taste the difference if we did, of course was made with palm oil. Nooooo!!!! What to do. We started doing some research and found no chocolate without the dreaded ingredient. But there was one with a little flicker of hope.
Lindt&Sprüngli, as a member of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO) have been purchasing exclusively crude palm oil and palm kernel oil for use in some of their fillings since as long back as as 2011. The RSPO specifically supports projects for palm oil from sustainable production and aims at reducing harmful effects of palm oil production through different certification models. They achieved the highest possible score according the the WWF's Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard in 2016. Furthermore they use only pure Cocoa Butter in their plain chocolate, which we now use in the production of our Brownies, Brownie Pudding and Choc Chip Biscuits. We could finally continue producing (and enjoying) this delectable treat, without having to worry about the ethics. Now the only worry is the effect it has on the waistline!
I felt I needed to share this journey of our changeover with you after the wonderful response we got on a facebook post urging our customers to read labels. Not for a moment do we claim that we do everything right in this sometimes overwhelming plight to save our planet. We have a long way to go. But as a company, and as a household, we are taking the small steps that are needed to make a big difference in the end.
Read your labels. It's a small step in the right direction.