Back to Nature cookies – ethical review

I bought two kinds of cookies from Back to Nature at the Grocery Outlet last week – Chocolate Chunk and Classic Creme. Cookies are one of my favorite things to bake but (similar to my excuse for buying several pizzas) I was feeling worn out last month and bought these attractive-looking boxed cookies, together with the pizzas and some Deschutes beer to complete my comfort food trifecta!

Back to Nature cookies – review

If you’re vegan, you may have come across articles mentioning that Oreo cookies are actually vegan. However, as this article points out, there are other aspects to a product’s ethics other than whether the ingredients are plant-based or not, and the palm oil in Mondelēz International’s Oreos is a key factor.  So, I was excited to find that the Back to Nature cookies are not only vegan but also taste great – and one variety is very similar to Oreos!

Don’t get me wrong, cookies that you bake at home are likely to taste better, but these cookies aren’t at all bad, ranking above average in taste and texture compared to other store-bought cookies that I’ve had in the US. The Chocolate Chunk cookies are at least as good, if not better than the other chocolate chip cookies that I’ve had here (e.g., Newman’s Own and Whole Foods’ 365 brand). Both varieties of the Back to Nature cookies have typical sugar content for this kind of cookie (there’s a little less sugar in the Classic Creme cookies compared to ultra-sweet Oreos) but they both have the benefit of being significantly lower in saturated fat compared to 365 and Newman’s Own cookies.

A photo of two Back to Nature cookies - Chocolate Chunk and Classic Creme. Ethical review of Back to Nature.

Back to Nature cookies – ingredients

Chocolate Chunk cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), Cane Sugar, Safflower Oil, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate), Brown Rice Syrup, Sea Salt.

Classic Creme cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Cane Sugar, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Brown Rice Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate) Sea Salt, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor.

Back to Nature Foods – ownership

I’m realizing now that this could be is an example of me buying a product that looks kind of sustainable and socially responsible and then finding a different story when I do a little research. See, for example, the story of the Sweet Earth pizzas which turned out to be owned by Nestlé (although Sweet Earth is still a good company, IMO). Basically, at one point, Back to Nature Foods was owned in part by Mondelēz International – the same multinational food giant that makes Oreos!! That is, until 2017, when Back to Nature Foods was acquired by a company called B&G Foods. So, the question then becomes: is this just a brand that’s more ethical in name than in nature? Let’s do an ethical review!

Ethical rating for Back to Nature cookies

Overall, I think that these Back to Nature cookies deserve 3.5 Green Stars (Chocolate Chunk variety) and 3 Green Stars (Classic Creme variety) for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • All Back to Nature products are made with plant-based ingredients, with the exception of a few products that contain honey.
  • My central problem with the cookies is that the company provides zero information on ingredient sustainability or social impact (on the package or online). One Back to Nature product is organic, but these cookies are not.
  • This is especially true of the Classic Creme cookies which contain palm oil. Back to Nature provide no info on palm oil sourcing. Perhaps they are every bit as bad as Oreo’s in that respect… we just don’t know.
  • Similarly, there’s no information on sourcing of chocolate – either the human impact (which can include child labor and slavery) or the environmental impact (which can include deforestation and some of the worst pesticides).
  • The box is made from recycled (and recyclable) paperboard and printed with vegetable inks.
  • However, the inner wrap is not compostable or recyclable, nor is the tray that holds the cookies as it’s made from polystyrene. That’s disappointing as polystyrene is not eco-friendly.
  • One thing I do like about the packaging is that it’s very compact, relative to the substantial amount of cookies inside, minimizing the amount of plastic needed.
  • Back to Nature is “working with The Nature Conservancy to plant more than 130,000 trees throughout the United States in 2020, as a supporter of the Plant a Billion Trees Program”.
  • To put that into perspective, that’s a donation of $200,000, which amounts to about 1% of the company’s net profit (EBITA) back in 2017.
  • It must be said that The Nature Conservancy has received a fair amount of criticism and doubt over its motives and links to the oil and gas industry.
  • Back to Nature was owned in part by Mondelēz International but is now owned by B&G Foods which also own various brands of frozen food (Green Giant), Mexican food (Ortega) and spices.

Overall, it’s a mix of good and bad. Perhaps the packaging is a good example – the outer box is made from recycled paperboard but the inner tray is made from polystyrene. Similarly, the products are vegan but the company has not disclosed essential information on sourcing of key ingredients.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Back to Nature cookies:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Chocolate Chunk cookies
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Classic Creme cookies

The Classic Creme cookies get a lower score because they contain palm oil, with no info on sourcing. If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: