Lärabar – social and environmental impact

I tried two kinds of Lärabar that I bought at the Grocery Outlet – I really liked one and the other is growing on me. First off, the ä in Lärabar is decorative – it’s not a Danish or Swedish company, but an American brand that’s now owned by one of the largest food corporations, General Mills. Lärabar founder, Lara Merriken, sold the company to General Mills in 2008 and remains an adviser (she wrote a letter at the time, addressing the sale). I’ll get to the social and environmental impact part later, but I’ll review the products first.

I don’t eat a lot of Lärabars as I’m not a big fan of dates and I’ve usually found that I’d just rather eat nuts or trail mix. The two bars that I tried for this post (all in the name of science!) are a bit more appealing for two different reasons. The first bar (Hemp Seed Brownie) is appealing mainly because it just tastes a lot better than other Lärabars that I’ve tried and in part because it contains hemp seeds. The second one (Apple Cobbler Protein bar) was attractive from a nutritional perspective more than taste – each bar contains 11 grams of protein (mainly from peas).

Lärabar – Hemp Seed Brownie

I love hemp for both health and sustainability reasons so I picked up a box of Lärabar hemp seed brownie bars a little while ago at the Grocery Outlet. The packaging and shape changed (see image below) and now they are marketed as a brownie rather than a bar. They’re especially good if they warm up a little bit in the sun (like in your bag while you’re hiking) because they become gooey and the chocolate flavor intensifies. It’s actually hard to find chocolate energy bars that really taste of chocolate, but these do : )

Lärabar – Apple Cobbler Protein bar

The newest products in the Lärabar range are high-protein bars that contain pea protein along with the usual mix of nuts and dates. I found them to be very compact and dense – even more than regular Lärabars – and it felt a bit like eating rations. Not that that’s always a bad thing – I actually like dense, high-energy food, especially for traveling or hiking. I also think that if we are going to buy packaged products then the product should be nutritious enough to justify the packaging.

Drinking water with these bars makes them more pleasant to eat – fluid intake is actually important for high-protein meals in general.

Lärabar – ingredients & nutrition

LÄRABAR Original Fruit & Nut bars are made by a simple process in which fruit, nuts, and spices are ground and mixed together. They are not baked or cooked. We use a handful of ingredients, as close to their natural state as possible. – Larabar

Here are some of the Lärabar certifications / features:

  • Gluten free
  • Kosher
  • Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa and coffee
  • Vegan
  • Non-GMO (not made with genetically engineered ingredients)

Hemp Seed Brownie – Ingredients

Dates, Cashews, Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Unsweetened Chocolate, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla Extract), Hemp Seeds, Cocoa Powder*, Sea Salt, Vanilla Extract

Although the packaging changed, the ingredients haven’t, and each bar/brownie provides 370 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, thanks to the hemp.

Apple Cobbler Protein Bar – Ingredients

Dates, Almonds, Pea Protein, Apples, Cinnamon, Sea Salt

These bars are 21% protein – that’s 11 grams of protein per bar.

Lärabar – social and environmental impact. Ingredients and nutrition facts are shown for Larabar products, Hemp Seed Brownie and Apple Cobbler Protein Bar

Lärabar is owned by General Mills

Lärabar is now owned by General Mills and like some other companies owned by food giants (e.g., Kashi, owned by Kellogg’s) there are some discrepancies between the ethos of the smaller company and the parent. For example, Lärabar make a stance against GMO ingredients, while General Mills (and Kellogg’s too) funded campaigns to defeat labeling of GM food.

I’ve already reviewed a couple of products that are fairly ethical brands owned by a less-ethical giant parent corporation. For example, Sweet Earth pizzas (now owned by Nestlé) and Back to Nature cookies (now owned by B&G Foods). It’s good (if I’m thinking optimistically) that these multinational giants are attempting to include more ethical brands. The danger is that a smaller brand may become compromised if it switches over to using commodity supply chains of the parent company. So I try to take these factors into account when reviewing a brand that was once an independent company but is now owned by a larger corporation.

In 1999, General Mills launched a new division of its company called Small Planet Foods, dedicated to natural and organic products. You may have seen the brands in grocery stores: Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm. LÄRABAR will be part of Small Planet Foods, conducting business as usual and continuing to produce and innovate the healthiest foods possible. – General Mills

Ethical rating for Lärabar

Lärabar doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years – I actually wrote a review of Lärabar five years ago and rated the company 4 green stars for social and environmental impact. The fact that the company hasn’t changed is both good and bad – it appears to have maintained its standards but it would be nice if it had made some improvements on things like carbon footprint or agriculture.

Lärabar – social and environmental impact. An graphic of 3.5 Green Stars representing an ethical score is shown under an image of two Larabar products. The products are Larabar's Hemp Seed Brownie and a Protein Bar.

Overall, I think that Lärabar deserves 3.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Lärabar products are certified vegan (even those that contain chocolate).
  • Cocoa and chocolate chips are certified by Fair Trade USA.
  • Minimal processing of ingredients, which keeps the carbon footprint low, generally. A large part of the carbon footprint of processed food comes from the processing part, rather than the agriculture.
  • The box that that holds the bars is made of recycled cardboard and made with wind energy.
  • However, besides that outer box, Lärabar doesn’t report on carbon footprint or other metrics.
  • I’d be more supportive of Lärabar if they used organic ingredients and were more transparent on ingredient sourcing.
  • Lärabar was a woman-owned business, until sold to General Mills.
  • We would have to look to General Mills for reporting on sustainability – and General Mills has a fairly poor reputation for sustainability.
  • General Mills is, however, trying to improve this situation by starting a regenerative agriculture program, but it’s very small so far:

In the past year, we accelerated farmer adoption of regenerative agriculture practices on more than 70,000 acres in key regions where we source ingredients – getting us closer to our 1 million acres commitment by 2030 – General Mills 2021 Global Responsibility Report

Summary scores (out of 5) for Lärabar:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value (hemp brownie) and 3 gold stars (protein bar)
  • 3.5 green stars for overall social and environmental impact

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

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