How sustainable is Kite Hill Butter?

Kite Hill butter is now on sale at the Grocery Outlet for $1.50 per 8-ounce tub – that’s 75% off the normal price. So, if you normally use conventional dairy butter (or vegan butter that’s made from palm oil that you’re not certain is ethically sourced) it’s a good time to try out Kite Hill’s vegan butter.

Also, I had originally scored Kite Hill 3 Green Stars but on further reflection I think it deserves an ethical rating of 3.5 Green Stars. The upgrade is largely based on the fact that the product works well as a replacement for conventional butter, hence helping more people to make a switch from animal products.

Listening to a podcast featuring Patrick Brown (co-founder of Kite Hill and Impossible Foods), it’s clear that this is his main goal in life now. I’m hoping that other improvements to the product will come with time (see the original post below for details on the rating).

Grocery Outlet Ethical Bargains

I found Kite Hill butter at the Grocery Outlet last week – $2.99 for the 8-ounce tub, normally $6 at other stores. I’ve now tried it a few times on various toasts and sandwiches and found it to be fine – it spreads well, melts well, and has a fairly neutral flavor that doesn’t interfere with whatever you’re creating in the kitchen. At the same time, Kite Hill butter doesn’t really add anything because the flavor and texture are both so neutral. It doesn’t elevate toast in the same way as good butter from pasture-raised cows (e.g., from Humboldt Creamery or Kerrygold) but it’s as good as most conventional dairy butters in the US. Update: actually I like Kite Hill butter the more I use it, and in a direct tasting versus conventional dairy butter (Tillamook) I think Kite Hill was actually better.

Trying different kinds of butter, searching for…

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Sweet Earth pizzas – ethical review

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 : )  

Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles

I bought some Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles at the Grocery Outlet last week and have already happily munched through half of them. The box of 10 large truffles was $3.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to the normal price of $8 from Alter Eco (they are often on sale for around $6 online). If you’re not familiar with them, the best comparison is the popular Lindor truffle from the Swiss chocolatier, Lindt (aka Lindt & Sprüngli). They both involve a creamy chocolate truffle filling surrounded by a round chocolate shell. As it happens, the Alter Eco truffles at the Grocery Outlet are also about the same price as Lindor truffles.

Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles – Review

The Alter Eco truffles come in a cute box of 10 truffles, suitable as a “stocking filler” or small gift for someone at work. Overall, I really like these chocolates and would buy them again. I wish I had a Lindor truffle to do a side-by-side comparison, but I did have one about a year ago and my gut instinct is that they are quite similar but that I slightly prefer this Alter Eco version. If I was to nitpick, I’d say that the salt isn’t as pronounced as it should be. They used fleur de sel, which is normally in the form of large flakes that provide a little salty kick when it hits your tongue. In this case I think it’s blended in. But not very salty is better than too salty. The caramel flavor is just right, the shell is not hard, and the inside is deliciously creamy.

Alter Eco versus Lindor truffles

Having established that the cost of the Alter Eco truffles (at the Grocery Outlet) and Lindor truffles is similar, and that the Alter Eco truffle probably tastes better, the more important metric for this site is how to they compare ethically? I won’t spend too much time discussing Lindt but they are mediocre in terms of ethics. They may not be quite as bad as Nestlé, Mondelez, and Ferrero, but on several metrics like palm oil and cacao sourcing Lindt is doing poorly when compared to Alter Eco. For example, Lindt points out that its palm oil sourcing follows RSPO guidelines, but as I pointed out on the Green Stars Project, RSPO certification is not sufficient to safeguard rainforests.  

Don’t get me wrong, Lindt & Sprüngli is not the worst company out there (ahem, Nestlé! *cough* Hershey!) but it pales in comparison to Alter Eco, which is one of the most ethical chocolate companies. Most of the big cholate makers’ success depends upon cheap cacao that’s sourced at the expense of the people and habitats of cacao-growing regions (mainly in West Africa). So if you’re serious about issues like human rights, child labor, and deforestation, then you would choose Alter Eco truffles over those from Lindt. I’ll get to the reasons now in the ethical score part!

Certifications for Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles. The certification symbols are shown for organic, gluten-free, Fair Trade, B-Corporation, FSC, and Climate Neutral
Certifications for Alter Eco truffles

Ethical rating for Alter Eco Truffles

Overall, I think that Alter Eco deserves 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Alter Eco has developed compostable wrappers for their truffles! The wrappers are made mostly from eucalyptus and birch.
  • The box is also FSC-certified and it looks like Alter Eco is very close to its goal of excluding plastic (even shrink-wrap for shipping) and only using packaging that’s recyclable or compostable.
  • Alter Eco covers 100% of its carbon footprint by planting trees and conserving land in the Peruvian Amazon, through the Pur project.
  • 92.8% of the truffle ingredients are Fair Trade certified – in fact Alter Eco pays 1.3 times the Fair Trade price.
  • All of the relevant truffle ingredients are certified organic and are sourced from farmer-owned coops
  • To go beyond organic the Alter Eco Foundation was launched to transition cacao farmers from monoculture to regenerative agroforestry
  • Alter Eco is a certified B Corporation (with a very good score of 134)
Alter Eco Salted Caramel Truffles - ethical review. An image of the box of Alter Eco truffles is shown next to a single truffle in a wrapper that's labeled as compostable. Underneath this is an ethical score of 5/5 Green Stars.

The importance of compostable packaging

Once in a while, I feel that a company makes such good progress on one metric that it adds extra weight to the score. Don’t get me wrong, Alter Eco scores highly on almost all metrics. The one thing that these truffles are not, however, is vegan – all of their truffles are made with organic milk. Obviously, this impacts the ethical score and I would normally reduce the score (probably to 4.5 green stars, considering that it’s organic milk) but Alter Eco has made such large contributions to other areas such as the compostable wrapper and supporting sustainable agroforestry that I’m awarding the company 5 stars.

Our dependence on single-use plastic is such a huge problem that any company that’s tackling this deserves recognition and support. Besides the compostable wrappers for truffles, Alter Eco developed compostable pouches for other products such as quinoa. The company’s goal is not to stop there but to further improve upon this, working towards zero-footprint packaging.

By the way, Alter Eco does make some vegan chocolate products – check out their FAQs for a list (I like their dark chocolate quinoa bar).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Alter Eco truffles:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 5 green stars for social and environmental impact

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

 

PS: The Alter Eco Foundation – working towards sustainable agroforestry

This is just a quick postscript to tell you a little more about the regenerative agroforestry that the Alter Eco Foundation is working towards:

Conventional cacao tree cultivation focuses on monoculture, which often results in soil degradation and biodiversity loss. Instead, our co-ops practice dynamic agroforestry, a method of agriculture which strives to mimic the natural evolution of the forest and improve the overall well-being of the farms (fincas), cultivating a wide variety of crops.

In maintaining the life of the trees and creating a healthy ecosystem, regular pruning is essential. Leaving the clippings on the ground creates a natural layer of mulch which protects the soil from drying out. These clippings eventually decompose, increasing the humus (the organic part of soil formed by decomposing leaves and other plant material) and nitrogen in the soil, which are important nutrients for healthy crops. Due to the balanced system of dynamic agroforestry and natural enemies controlling pest populations, there is no need for pesticides. Additionally, dynamic agroforestry uses all available resources in the natural ecosystem. For example, in dry months banana stalks can provide water to growing cacao trees for up to three months, requiring no additional water source!

Deschutes Obsidian Stout

I picked up a six-pack of Deschutes Obsidian Stout at the Grocery Outlet last week. Beer is not sold at such a steep discount at the Grocery Outlet compared to wine and food – it was $8.99 compared to the normal supermarket price of $9.99. But The GO has started stocking a pretty good selection of beers, and I’ll be featuring some of them on this site in the coming weeks. And a 10% discount isn’t bad, in any case.

I haven’t yet been to Bend, Oregon, home to Deschutes brewery (hoping to make it someday) but I’ve been to the Deschutes pub in Portland and recommend getting a beer flight if you’re in town after things return to normal. At the moment, during lockdown, they’re limited to pick-up and delivery but they’re also selling bake-at-home pretzel kits!

Here’s a little clip about Deschutes from the craft brewing documentary, Pints:

Deschutes Obsidian Stout- review

Deschutes Obsidian Stout gets good ratings on the popular beer review sites, Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. On the latter site it’s ranked 8th on their list of the best American stouts. Really, it’s one of the few stouts in the top 50 on that list that you’re likely to find in a regular supermarket. The chocolate stout from Rogue Ales (another Oregon brewery) is ranked 13th and Sierra Nevada stout is ranked 50th on the Beer Advocate list.

I’m from Ireland, home of good stouts, so my standards are pretty high. On top of this, stouts have become more complex since Obsidian was first released, with ingredients like coffee and chocolate and post-brew aging in bourbon barrels becoming quite common. Having said that, I like Obsidian Stout as a good example of a simpler stout that derives most of its flavor from roasted malts and black barley. At 6.4% alcohol, it’s fairly strong but obviously nowhere near the alcohol content of barrel-aged stouts. It’s a little more bitter than some stouts, so if you don’t love it then rethink what you are eating alongside it 🙂

I also usually just wait until I’m in a bar before I have a stout because most of them are better on draught (often with nitrogen) but circumstances are different this year. A nice thing about Obsidian is that it pours well from the bottle, forming a good-sized coffee-scented head, and overall I think it’s a good comforting beer for this time of year.

Deschutes Brewing – sustainability

In 2016, Deschutes Brewing was recognized as a global sustainability leader for practices such as restoring water in the Deschutes river, minimizing waste, and offsetting energy use with renewable energy credits. You can read more about Deschutes’ efforts on sustainability on their site. I’ll summarize that info along with a few other facts I found online in the ethical review, below.

Deschutes Brewing – social impact

One nice thing about Deschutes is that they are still independent and have an employee stock program. Researching the company just now, I was half expecting it to be owned by one of the mega breweries by now. Not the case!

Deschutes Brewery has always been family owned and operated. An Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) was set up in 2013 so employees now own a percentage of the company.

Deschutes also has a Community Pints program to support any eligible non-profits that apply. How it works: For every pint sold on each Tuesday of the designated month, the non-profit will receive $1.

The Deschutes mission statement might look like standard blurb, but it becomes all the more important in the wake of the protests and unrest in Oregon over the summer:

Since 1988, one thing has not changed – Deschutes Brewery is still a community gathering place. We are here to perpetuate a sense of belonging, and believe that everyone is equal over a beer. We commit to supporting people of all races, ages, genders, orientation, socioeconomic status, beliefs and backgrounds.

Is Deschutes Beer Vegan?

As you may know, beer and wine often undergoes a fining step that involves clarification by adding an agent that helps remove suspended yeast and protein. Gelatin and a kind of collagen from fish (isinglass) are commonly used as fining agents. However, Deschutes uses Irish moss for clarification of most of their beers. They clarify this (haha) on the Deschutes website:

We do not use animal products in the cellaring or brewing process. The clarifying agent we use in our brewhouse is made from Irish Moss, a red algae. However, experimental beers brewed at our pubs sometime use lactose, isinglass, honey or other specialty ingredients, but we call it out in the description listed on the menu.

So Deschutes’s bottled beers, such as Obsidian Stout, are in fact vegan.

Deschutes Obsidian Stout - a photo of a six-pack of this stout from Deschutes Brewing is shown over a graphic of 4.5 Green Stars, representing an ethical rating (on a scale of 1-5 green stars)

Ethical rating for Deschutes Obsidian Stout

Overall, I think that Deschutes Obsidian Stout deserves 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Deschutes Brewing was recognized in 2016 as a global sustainability leader for conservation of energy and resources in various aspects of the business from building efficiency to waste minimization.
  • Water conservation: Deschutes funds the restoration of one billion gallons of water into the Deschutes River every year to offset the company’s water usage through the Deschutes River Conservancy water leasing program
  • Carbon Footprint: Deschutes works with the EPA’s Green Power Partner to reduce energy use and also purchases renewable energy through the Blue Sky program.
  • A note on the last point: in 2016 it was reported that Deschutes Brewing offset even more green energy than they actually used but the Deschutes Brewery website now states that 30% of power used by the main brewery is offset by wind and solar. So I’m not sure which is correct. Are they just bad at reporting on their own sustainability metrics or has their percentage green energy use dropped significantly since 2016?
  • Bottles are made form 70% recycled glass, as far as I know. Again, this info was found in an article on Deschutes Brewery but the company website makes no mention of this.
  • It’s a family and employee-owned business, with a stock program for employees.
  • Employees rate Deschutes Brewing at 4.1 on Glassdoor, a high score for that site.
  • Deschutes contributes to various local charities and plays various roles in the community including the support of local conservation organizations and ingredient suppliers.
  • Deschutes Obsidian Stout (and virtually all of Deschutes’s bottled beer) is vegan, relying on Irish moss for clarification.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Deschutes Obsidian Stout:

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

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

Califia Protein Oat milk – sustainability

I picked up a bottle of Califia Protein Oat milk at the Grocery Outlet a week ago for $1.99 – it’s normally $6 at other stores such as Whole Foods. I am very fussy about what I put in my coffee and over the last couple of years I’ve found two things that work well: homemade hazelnut milk and oat milk. The Califia Protein Oat milk worked really well in my coffee and tea – it’s similar to Oatly, which I’ve also bought at the Grocery Outlet. I want milk that doesn’t change the flavor of the coffee much but that adds a little body and creaminess. Both Oatly (especially the Barista Blend) and Califia Protein Oat milk meet these criteria. There are other milks that work well in cereal – I’ve bought hemp milk and sesame milk at the Grocery Outlet and thought both of them were great with cereal but not so good (for me) in coffee because they change the flavor too much.

This week, I experimented by making my own oat milk (I’ll report on that in a separate post) and achieved results that were pretty similar to commercial oat milk from Califia and Oatly. It turns out that making oat milk is really easy and it’s also dirt cheap. You may not think that you have the time (and on some weeks, perhaps you won’t) but if you try it once I think you’ll find it a good way to reduce your packaging footprint.

Califia Protein Oat milk, photographed in it's amphora-shaped plastic packaging. How sustainable is Califia?

Califia packaging – sustainability

One of the most striking things about Califia is their award-winning packaging, which, according to Califia is “based on the classical, feminine proportions featured in a Greek Amphora.” It’s also very ergonomic, being easy to grasp and open. On the downside, it contains a lot of plastic, and unlike some other plant-based milk companies (e.g., Ripple) it’s made from virgin plastic (PET) rather than recycled (rPET). Researchers from the University of California, Davis, recently published a paper that looked at the impact of Califia almond milk and found that the packaging contributed over 40% of the product’s Global Warming Potential (GWP). This isn’t too surprising as the packaging really is super bulky! The researchers made a suggestion to Califia for reducing its carbon footprint: Switch to lighter packaging that’s made from recycled plastic.

So there’s no doubt that Califia should be using rPET to make their bottles. If we want to continue using plastic packaging in such large quantities then it really has to be recycled as much as possible, and the only way in which a recycling works is if there’s demand for recycled plastic fibers. Califia do try to make recycling a little more efficient by making the label easy to remove, but it needs to step up and use rPET for bottles, as Ripple Foods does. In an ideal world, Califia could take it a step further and introduce reusable glass bottles within California – Strauss creamery, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin, has implemented this system successfully for years.

Califia Protein Oat milk – ingredients

There is more to the new Califia Protein Oat milk than just oats – it’s made with pea protein as well as oats, increasing the protein content from around 2.5 grams per serving (for typical oat milk) to 8 grams per serving. It also contains flaxseed oil to deliver omega-3 fats (720 mg of alpha-linolenic acid per serving) and good amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin E. So by combining oats with the two main ingredients of Ripple milk (pea protein and sunflower oil) and then adding in the flaxseed oil and mushroom powder, it looks like Califia is emulating the flavor of oat milk and the nutritional profile of dairy milk. But it has advantages of conventional dairy milk in that it contains fiber, less sugar, and no cholesterol.

Califia Protein Oat milk ingredients: Oat milk (Water, Oats), Pea Protein, Sunflower Oil, Sunflower Butter, Calcium Carbonate, Flaxseed Oil, Dipotassium Phosphate, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Tricalcium Phosphate, Gellan Gum, Vitamin D2 Mushroom Powder.

Califia Protein Oat milk, nutrition facts are shown next to those for Humboldt organic low-fat milk. How sustainable is Califia?
Califia Protein Oat milk, nutrition facts (on left) compared to those for Humboldt organic low-fat milk.

Ethical rating for Califia Protein Oat milk

Overall, I think that Califia Protein Oat milk deserves 4 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • It’s a certified vegan product, providing a more ethical alternative to cow’s milk.
  • The main ingredients, oats and peas, are very sustainable crops, in general.
  • Califia does a decent job at using renewable energy: their goal is to transition to 100% renewable power by 2020. I contacted Califia to ask if they have achieved this but haven’t received a response yet.
  • Califia also works on conserving water by working with farmers who use more efficient drip irrigation systems and also reclaiming all water from their manufacturing facility for use on nearby farms.
  • Califia also make a good effort at protecting bees and encouraging integrated pest management on supplier farms. It would be good to get an update on oats and peas now that these ingredients are taking center stage.
  • I’d prefer if Califia sourced organic oats and certainly organic sunflower oil/butter.
  • Packaging should be lighter and made with recycled plastic (rPET).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Califia Protein Oat milk:

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

As mentioned at the beginning, oat milk is super-easy to make at home and also really cheap. Califia’s product does add nutritional value by adding flaxseed oil and mushroom powder, but of course you could also do this at home. The major downsides of Califia’s product are the large amount of virgin plastic in the bottle and the lack of organic ingredients. I’m going to try making homemade oat milk regularly, but as far as commercial products go, this is a pretty good one. I’ll cover others in upcoming posts.

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

Purely Elizabeth Peanut Butter bar

I picked up a box of 12 Purely Elizabeth peanut butter bars at a Bay Area Grocery Outlet last week. They are marketed as Whole Food Nut + Seed Bars, and the ingredient list verifies this: peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower kernels are the top three ingredients and they also contain hemp and chia seeds and almond meal. They are sweetened using coconut sugar and also include coconut in the form of flakes and raw coconut oil. An intriguing ingredient is reishi extract – I was interested to see this because medicinal mushrooms are on my mind these days and I had bought a reishi mushroom supplement recently. Almost all of the ingredients are organic.

Buying them by the box directly from Purely Elizabeth, they work out at $2.29 each, while the Grocery Outlet was selling them for $0.50 each.

Purely Elizabeth Peanut Butter bar - image of front and back of product packaging showing ingredients and nutrition facts.

About Purely Elizabeth

I have to admit that I wasn’t really aware of the company until I saw its products at the Grocery Outlet. Purely Elizabeth was founded in Boulder, Colorado, by Elizabeth Stein, who wanted to apply her background in integrative nutrition. This rings true to me as nutritional content does seem to be the main driving force of the products. The company is now over 10 years old and, besides the energy bars, has become popular for its granola, oatmeal, and baking mixes (pancakes, waffles, bread, muffins). I also spotted Purely Elizabeth superfood oatmeal (cranberry & pumpkin seed) at the Grocery Outlet last week.

There are so many bars available these days and yet many of them fall short nutritionally and/or ethically. For example, Kind bars (also available at the Grocery Outlet) are popular because of their image as healthy and kind. However, I evaluated Kind Snacks on the Green Stars Project and rated the company 2/5 Green Stars for a failure to source sustainable ingredients and for a lack of transparency. I’ll get to the ethical rating for Purely Elizabeth in a moment.

Purely Elizabeth bars – would I buy them again?

Totally! I intend to pick these up again on my next trip to the Grocery Outlet. Because of lockdown I’ve found it handy to have some kind of bars around and I could eat Purely Elizabeth bars regularly. I also want to get seeds into my diet as much as possible – seeds are, after all, a complete plant in one tiny package, containing a lot of minerals like zinc that many of us are deficient in.

First impression was that they were very dry but once I got over that, they grew on me, as many healthier foods tend to. Their dryness actually makes them perfect for carrying around since they weigh so little yet contain 230 calories of mainly seeds and nuts – think of them like lembas bread 😉 Their lightness and high energy content makes them pretty much ideal for hiking. I also like snacks that are a little salty, so these fit the bill there – but they are not too salty, with each bar delivering only 6% of your recommended daily sodium. The balance of nutrients is good, with 7 g protein, 3 g fiber and 7 g total sugars (5 g of which is added coconut sugar) per 40 g bar.

Purely Elizabeth Peanut Butter bar - the image shows the bar itself, with the wrapper in the background.

Ethical rating for Purely Elizabeth Peanut Butter bar

I do try to avoid packaging as much as possible, so I sometimes make my own bars from ingredients that I’ve bought in bulk. But right now, because of lockdown, most bulk sections are closed and I would have to buy ingredients in individual packages. At some point I’ll write a post about another whole food bar (Liv Bar) that comes in compostable packaging. Meanwhile, here’s my review of Purely Elizabeth bars:

Overall, I think that Purely Elizabeth bars deserve 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • It’s a certified vegan product.
  • Almost all of the ingredients are organic.
  • Purely Elizabeth (PE) is a woman-owned business.
  • It’s also a certified B Corporation (although their score isn’t high; the company just about qualifies).
  • PE has donated to food banks and local schools.
  • Low-glycemic, nutrient rich foods have many social benefits and also environmental benefits.  
  • The company accepted funding from General Mills in 2017 so it’ll be interesting to see if PE maintains its ethical standards (General Mills rates poorly). I hope they do but I noticed that PE used to be a member of 1% for the Planet but it looks like this has been dropped now. Also, the Mission and Values page on PE’s website is also no longer available.
  • Room for improvement: a compostable wrapper. Also, it’s about time that the company started reporting on corporate responsibility (carbon footprint, etc.).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Purely Elizabeth peanut butter bars:

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

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

Beyond Sausage at the Grocery Outlet

Visiting the Grocery Outlet in October, I was most excited to find Beyond Meat sausages on sale in their freezer – the Sweet Italian flavor of Beyond Sausage, which was new to me. I’ve tried their Hot Italian and their Brat Original sausages and the latter have become a regular buy for me – semi-regular, as they’re usually priced a little over $9 at Whole Foods. So, seeing the new flavor of Beyond Sausage at the Grocery Outlet for $3.49, I bought eight packs – just enough to fill the remaining space in my freezer! I don’t normally buy such large quantities of anything but its lockdown (the excuse for everything, ha ha) and it’s nice to have a change of pace from avocado toast for lunch.

Is Beyond Sausage still available at the Grocery Outlet?

First off, I don’t know if you’re going to be lucky enough to find the Beyond Sausages at your Grocery Outlet now that it’s November. But there’s a reasonable chance as this isn’t the first time that I’ve found Beyond Meat products in one of my local Bay Area (California) stores. Previously I found meatballs from Beyond Meat at the Alameda store, if my fuzzy lockdown brain recalls correctly. This blog is just getting started so I’m a little behind schedule for now, but I’m hoping in future to post reviews of products very soon after I find them. The Grocery Outlet isn’t like a regular store – popular products will sometimes sell out over a few weeks. But don’t despair – they often return!

A package of Beyond Meat Sweet Italian sausages, labeled as Beyond Sausage, available at the Grocery Outlet.

How to cook Beyond Sausage (Sweet Italian)

Since I had so many sausages to experiment with, I discovered a few things to improve them. At first I wasn’t enjoying the Sweet Italian sausages as much as the Original Brat that I normally buy. They tasted too charred on the outside, too undone on the inside and a little too sweet overall. Three things helped to make them a lot better:

  1. Cook them at a lower temperature than you would expect. Beyond Meat sausages are made with coconut oil, which has a lower smoke point than most other oils. So, the key thing is to cook them on a medium heat – if your kitchen smells smoky (or of charred food) after you’ve finished cooking then the cooking temperature was probably too high. I cook mine for about 8-10 minutes in a non-stick pan coated with a very small amount of olive oil, flipping them once, which brings me to the next point.
  2. Split the sausages down the middle before cooking. This may sound wrong as the sausages have a casing to keep them intact (it’s made from alginate, which comes from seaweed) and I didn’t need to split the Original Brat sausages that I normally eat. But when I cooked the Sweet Italian sausages whole, the inside of the sausage seemed a little undercooked to me and I didn’t like the pinkish color. So now I split them down the middle, lengthwise (don’t worry, they won’t fall apart!) and cook them on the round (casing) side first and then flip them to cook the open flat side.
  3. Eat these with fixings like lettuce and tomato. Because of their slight sweetness, the sausages work much better when you pair them with any of the typical fixings like lettuce, tomato, or avocado. Typically, I toast a little bread (whole-wheat walnut or sourdough work well), butter it (optional!) and then stack lettuce, tomato, salt and pepper and half a sausage (split down the middle before cooking). Because they contain a fair amount of fat it’s really good to pair them with healthy veggies, both for taste and health 🙂
An open-faced sandwich composed of avocado, lettuce, tomato, and half a sausage from Beyond Meat on sourdough bread. The Beyond Sausage was purchased at the Grocery Outlet.
I need to work on my photography!

Now that I’ve discovered a good way to cook and eat these, I’m super-happy that I have 5 more packs in the freezer! They aren’t quite as good as the Original Brat, in my opinion, but they’re pretty close – and at around one-third of the Whole Foods price, I’m totally sold on them. Now let’s take a look at how they rate ethically….

Ethical rating for Beyond Sausage (Sweet Italian)

I’ve previously written about the sustainability of Beyond Meat on The Green Stars Project, so please take a look at that post for more information, including detail on a life-cycle assessment (LCA) of peas versus other protein such as meat. As you probably know, the main ingredient of Beyond Meat products such as Beyond Sausage is pea protein, usually followed by coconut oil and sunflower oil.

Overall, I think that Beyond Sausage deserves 4.5 Green Stars (out of 5) for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • It’s a vegan product that avoids hardship to animals
  • Life-cycle assessments show that peas are far more sustainable than meat
  • A 2018 Oxford University study looked at various metrics such as carbon and pollution footprints and land use. Peas (and other legumes) scored really well on all fronts.
  • Legumes generally require far less fertilizer as these plants can fix their own nitrogen
  • Packaging for Beyond Sausage is impressive – a cardboard tray (which I can recycle as the sausage casing prevents them from staining the cardboard) and a thin film with a label.
  • Room for improvement: I’d like to see Beyond Meat use organic sunflower oil, as almost all conventional sunflower crops are treated with neonics, insecticides that harm bees.
  • I’d also like to see corporate sustainability reporting from Beyond Meat and more information on ingredient sourcing. Especially now that it’s a huge public company.

I had been debating whether to do Green Stars ratings only in whole units, or to allow half-stars also. In my original post on Beyond Meat, I awarded the sausages 5/5 Green Stars. Now, I’m thinking that it’s useful to be able to score in half-star increments as it allows more nuance – in this case I’m dropping half a Green Star as a way of telling Beyond Meat that I’d like them to use organic sunflower oil in their products and to publish more information on sustainability (e.g., a CSR report).

Overall, though, I think Beyond Sausage is one of the most ethical meat substitutes around.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Beyond Sausage Sweet Italian:

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

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe and don’t panic 🙂

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Nov 4-10, 2020

The Grocery Outlet wine sale runs from November 4-10, 2020. The Grocery Outlet is becoming well known for wine deals and prices are reduced a further 20% for all wines during the sale. One of the fun things about shopping at the Grocery Outlet is finding new things, since the stock is constantly changing. And this is especially true for wine because you really won’t know what you’ve found until you get home and try it 🙂

About half of my shopping time at the Grocery Outlet is usually spent in the wine aisle – and it’s always fun. Weighing up options like a risky $60 bottle of wine that’s reduced to $15 versus a $6 bottle that looks just as promising (but only reduced from $12). Of course, I rely on some research (Vivino is a good source of user-generated ratings for wine) but for some reason I never seem to get good phone reception in my local Grocery Outlet. Are stores made out of some special cellular-signal-blocking material to foil people from researching wine too much?! In this crazy year of ridiculous conspiracy theories I almost feel that I should point out that I was joking there.

But there’s a general sense of excitement about the wine at Grocery Outlet and I think it comes down to the unpredictability of the outcome. Many of the wines are good, some are dull, and a few turn out to be incredible (for the price). Then, if you discover (sitting at home, later on) that your $15 bottle of wine would have been a good buy even at $60 there’s also a second part to the adventure: Is the wine still at the store?! Because, of course, it may have taken you one or two weeks to get around to trying the wine and by then many others may have also discovered it.

The Grocery Outlet Wine Sale will be November 4-10, 2020. The image is a ad from the Grocery Outlet announcing an extra 20% off wine during the sale.
The Grocery Outlet Wine Sale will be November 4-10, 2020

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale – Recommendations?

Of course, the thrill of finding a good wine is amplified (and it’s hard to find amplified thrills during lockdown) if you can also go back and buy it during the Grocery Outlet wine sale – your $15 find is now $12, meaning you can buy four and cellar three of them. And by cellaring, I mean store in a wine box on the floor of your closet.

For finding leads on good wine, I recommend the WordPress blog, The magical world of wines from Grocery Outlet (aka, GrossOutWine) – The page titled What’s New?,  is a pretty active comment thread on wine finds.

So, last week I bought these two wines, knowing that the sale is about to start:

  1. Cabernet Sauvignon from Experience, Napa, 2016. $15 at the Grocery Outlet, normally $25. This wine is rated 4.0 out of 5 by users on Vivino, which is pretty good. I find that most wines that score 3.8 or higher on Vivino are worth trying if the price is reasonable.
  2. Barbera reserve from Sunce, Clear Lake, 2017 (St. Olof Vineyard). $10. This wine is limited – only 9 barrels were made. The 2018 vintage is listed at $34 on Sunce’s website.

I’m about to try them and will post comments below once I do.

Grocery Outlet wine sale. The image shows two wines purchased before the sale: Sunce barbera 2017 and Experience cabernet sauvignon, 2016.
I just noticed after taking this photo that the two labels bring together the sun and the moon!

Ethical ratings for wine?

Since the point of this site is to find ethical bargains, I’m going to try to get into the ethical side a little bit in future posts. Several of the wineries that I’ve been to around Napa & Sonoma have talked about their sustainability in some form. For example, check out Napa’s Honig winery for their sustainability stories on birds, bees, solar panels and sniffer dogs! They also offer an Eco Tour, which will hopefully resume post-lockdown.

Finding information on some wineries will be a bit tricky, so I expect that determining ethical ratings for wine will a bit more challenging than for food products. It has been a tough year for Napa and Sonoma though – along with having to deal with the pandemic and crazy president like the rest of us, they’ve also endured some of the worst fires in state history. So there are good reasons to support these wineries by buying wine from these regions. Of course, wine is very important for us, too, when dealing with the pandemic, wildfires, and crazy president. Cheers!

Welcome!

Welcome to the site for discovering ethical bargains at the Grocery Outlet!

You may be wondering why on earth I’ve started a site on such a specific topic.

Good question! Well, hopefully it’ll become apparent over time but here are a few reasons:

  • The Grocery Outlet is becoming popular as a fun store for shopping for bargains.
  • Store inventory changes fast so there’s always something new to discover.
  • Stores feature products by newer brands, many of which are actually pretty ethical.
  • Our current Covid-19 pandemic is hurting many people, economically, so it’s important to show that we can find ethical products on a budget.

The idea came to me during the summer after I wrote an ethical review of the Grocery Outlet on my ethical consumerism site, the Green Stars Project.

The blog will highlight products that I purchased at the Grocery Outlet and take a look at how they rate ethically, that is for social and environmental impact.

A few important things to point out:

  • Like it’s sister site, The Green Stars Project, this is a non-profit blog and project.
  • That means that I won’t be doing any sponsored posts on this site.
  • Nor will I be looking for any kind of sponsorship from the Grocery Outlet.
  • Being impartial is central to the goal of assigning ethical ratings to products.

One of the goals here is to start a culture where we really start to think about the impact of the items we buy and the companies we support. If this year has taught us anything it’s that our social and environmental issues need to become front and center in our lives.