Sweet Earth pizzas – ethical review

Sweet Earth pizzas are shown - the Protein Lover's and Truffle Lover's pizzas - and an ethical rating of 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact

I found two kinds of Sweet Earth pizza at the Grocery Outlet last week – the Truffle Lover’s and Protein Lover’s pizza. On top of the names being kinda like awk-ward, the marketing is a little confusing – at first I wasn’t sure whether I was buying a vegetarian or vegan pizza, or even an omnivore pizza in the case of the Protein Lover’s pizza, which is covered with “pepperoni” and “Tuscan grounds.” It turns out that the pepperoni and the ground Tuscan (!) are both plant-based and the cheese is actual cheese, from cow’s milk. So, long story short, they are vegetarian pizzas.

Sweet Earth pizzas – review

First I tried the Protein Lover’s pizza and discovered that, like the Beyond Sausage that I reviewed last month, the experience depends greatly on how you cook it. The first pizza that I cooked was great and the second, not so great. That’s right, I bought three pizzas and cooked two of them within a week – pretty healthy behavior for someone dealing with November, 2020, I think! The difference in taste, I think, was down to the fact that I followed directions for the first one, cooking it for 16 minutes until it was really browned, while I pulled the second one out of the oven when it smelled cooked and looked a little brown. Big mistake! The plant-based protein toppings (especially the Tuscan grounds) don’t work unless cooked fully. When cooked properly, though this pizza was really good – everything works well together, including the roasted peppers, which are often not roasted properly in commercial kitchens.

The Protein Lover’s Pizza is a now a pretty limited edition as it looks like the Tuscan grounds were dropped – on Sweet Earth’s website it has been replaced by a Pepperoni Lover’s pizza. Hence, they ended up at the Grocery Outlet for $4 instead of a normal price of around $6.50. I’d recommend it, especially to vegetarians who are craving a very meaty pizza experience, or (like me) have never had pepperoni pizza and wonder what it might taste like. Just cook it properly!

I also tried the Truffle Lover’s pizza (topped with lots of mushrooms grown by Far West Fungi in nearby Santa Cruz) and found that one to be more straightforward to cook. The truffle flavor was really good – just enough to complement the mushrooms rather than overpower everything. I’d recommend both pizzas and found them both to be a comforting way to get over what was arguably the most globally stressful month of the millennium so far – especially combined with a tasty wine. If I was served either of them at a good Bay Area pizza restaurant, I probably wouldn’t guess that they were pre-packaged.

Sweet Earth Truffle Lover's pizza - a photo of the cooked pizza from Sweet Earth, now owned by Nestle.
Sweet Earth Truffle Lover’s pizza

Sweet Earth is owned by Nestlé!

Just now, while researching this post, that I discovered that Sweet Earth was acquired by Nestlé in 2017! This is a bit of a shock to me as I try to avoid Nestlé products if at all possible. I’ve been aware of Sweet Earth and bought its products since before that time – its Benevolent Bacon is one of the best bacon substitutes that I’ve ever had – and I generally liked the company. Do I still like them now that they are owned by Nestlé? Well, I’m going to do some more research and will report on an ethical rating at the end.

The topic of a smaller, fairly ethical company, being taken over by a larger less-ethical company is not uncommon and I think they have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If the smaller company drops its standards after being acquired then I’ll drop them like a hot potato. To take an example, I feel that Ben & Jerry’s slipped after Unilever took over, while Whole Foods has generally maintained its standards so far, since being acquired by Amazon. I’ll still shop at Whole Foods, although less often than I used to, even though I don’t love Amazon. In the case of Sweet Earth, it irks me to think that my money is in part supporting Nestlé, but on the other hand you can argue that if a company makes a move to become less harmful then that’s a good thing, of course.

Sweet Earth pizzas are shown - the Protein Lover's and Truffle Lover's pizzas - and an ethical rating of 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact

Ethical rating for Sweet Earth pizzas

Overall, I think that the Sweet Earth pizzas deserve 3.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Sweet Earth is a small, local company, based in Moss Beach, on Monterey Bay, that’s focused on the development of plant-based foods (often fully vegan or sometimes vegetarian, like these pizzas).
  • Most of the main ingredients for these pizzas (such as the wheat crust) are organic but most of the cheeses are not. This is disappointing, particularly now that Nestlé may possibly be supplying the cheese.
  • Organic mushrooms for the truffle pizza are supplied by local, small business, Far West Fungi.
  • Sweet Earth have an Eco Clock on their site which is fun to watch and catalogs some facts and figures like greenhouse gases avoided (79,000 tonnes), water conserved (82 million gallons) and animals saved (24,000 cows, 84,000 pigs and 2.7 million chickens).
  • The Eco Clock is a nice way to present the impact of plant-based protein (which applies to many companies) but it’s disappointing that Sweet Earth doesn’t provide more specific information on sustainability or social impact.
  • Packaging is typical of that for pizzas – a very light plastic film and the rest is cardboard (although not recycled or FSC-certified, to my knowledge). The pizzas are quite nutrient dense, so it makes that piece of plastic exist for a good reason (compared to more junky food).
  • Sweet Earth has grown with a trend of mostly women in positions of leadership.
  • Sweet Earth was acquired in 2017 by Nestlé, a company with a poor ethical track record. On the one hand I don’t want to support Nestlé in any way but on the other hand it’s good that Nestlé is improving by adopting more plant-based foods. I like Sweet Earth, having bought its products before the company was sold to Nestlé, and will continue to support them, but only if the original company values are maintained.

I’m wavering between a score of 3.5 and 4 for these pizzas and I think if it wasn’t for the new ownership by Nestlé, and the vagueness in Sweet Earth’s responsibility reporting that comes with that, they might get 4 green stars. In fact, for Sweet Earth’s vegan products I’d rate some of them 4.5 green stars. I chose to buy these pizzas with cheese on top, even though I know that cheese often isn’t great in terms of ethics (animal welfare) and environmental impact. I always eat vegetarian food and try to be fully plant-based (vegan) more often. The ethical score drops by perhaps 0.5 or 1.0 green stars because of the cheese and I think it’s important to remind myself of that. A vegetarian pizza is generally not as ethical as a vegan pizza but more ethical than a meat-based one – and we do what we can on our paths : )

Summary scores (out of 5) for Sweet Earth pizzas:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Published by jkaybay

I have two sites, both focused on ethical consumerism. The Green Stars Project (https://greenstarsproject.org/) examines topics related to ethical consumption and aims to start a movement based on crowd-sourced ethical ratings. Ethical Bargains (https://ethicalbargains.org/) is focused on rating new products, especially plant-based food items, that I've bought at the Grocery Outlet.

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