For a single box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese costing 0.99, this is an incredibly affordable food product that many people rely on because of its accessibility. For many, this is a staple food product because it costs so little to provide a whole meal. Those who don’t have access to healthier foods because it’s too expensive or are too far to obtain are disproportionately suffering from health related issues because of systemic racism, food insecurities and income disparities. Although this is not the most sustainable product, it is not the worst and is at least still vegetarian, which reduces one’s carbon footprint drastically versus consuming meat. Additionally, blaming consumers for not choosing sustainable options is counterproductive because it is these wealthy corporations that contribute the most to climate change. Their toxic practices are the ones to blame and there is nothing consumers can do other than advocate for change. For this product being such an easy meal at a really affordable price, I can understand how essential this product may be for many. Considering how much of a powerhouse Kraft is, I would expect better sustainability efforts like, better packaging which they can definitely afford or being explicit in their supply chain practices. And if they are living up to their word in their CSR, they should acknowledge their efforts to bring awareness to their consumers and get them acquainted with the importance of sustainability. The fact that they are not widely spreading this information seems strange and makes me question whether they only put up a front to seem presentable in the report. Kraft has the means to change how they can incorporate sustainable practices and I hope to see more. They do have an organic line so, it makes me wonder why not just make that the norm rather than keep it separate.
The classic Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is made of the macaroni and the cheese sauce mix. They are composed of separate ingredients that Kraft lays out. Basically the macaroni is made from wheat flour and other additives that are added back to the wheat flour in order to ‘enrich’ it, meaning they add back the nutrients it lost during the processing period. This is extremely common in any processed food, so it’s nothing shady. For the cheese sauce mix, the important components are whey, milk fat, milk protein, cheese cultures, enzymes, and other processed food additives and flavorings. None of these ingredients are dramatically sustainable nor are they the ultimate worst. I was very surprised to learn that this product had no artificial flavors, dyes, or preservatives, but only was made possible because of public pressure. This is empowering because it shows how Kraft’s consumers really made an impact in voicing their frustrations and demands. This happened because Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese was found to contain potentially toxic chemicals, phthalates, when tested for. Phthalates are used to make materials flexible, like packaging, but are incredibly harmful for humans because they interfere with the body’s hormone system, especially children and pregnant women. They were found in levels four times more than natural cheese, which is pretty alarming. Kraft addresses this concern on their website stating they do not actually add phthalates and the sample that did contain these traces was technically a very low amount that is considered safe. They claim to continue working with regulations and being able to minimize these amounts, but I found it a bit condescending that they did not fully address how and why these phthalates even contaminated the food products to begin with and how the study found levels four times higher than other cheeses. With Kraft being such a large corporation, it is no surprise they are able to just push this issue on the side without being really held accountable. Nonetheless, these ingredients could definitely be worse for being a processed food item, but could also be more sustainable in which Kraft definitely has the power and money to do so.
For packaging, this box is probably made out of cardboard, which can be more sustainable than other packaging alternatives because it offers the ability to recycle. Kraft makes an effort to include recycling labels on their products, but I personally think this is the bare minimum and includes not much effort at all. Considering they are probably using regular recyclable cardboard, it would be nice to see them already using recycled or compostable materials, like other companies. Kraft is currently working on a compostable fiber microwavable cup for their macaroni and cheese cups (which would be launching later this year), but I could not find any information regarding their boxed product. This helps their goal of aiming ‘to make 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025’ . This is definitely a doable goal that other companies have already implemented so, I find it unimpressive that Kraft is barely trying to incorporate them now. If the ingredients cannot be sustainable because it is a processed cheese product, the least Kraft can do is produce extremely sustainable packaging options.
Considering this is a food item that relies on cheese for its notability, it already is quite unsustainable because of the dairy product. Usually there is nothing quite sustainable about the dairy industry because of the harsh treatment on the cows, the huge carbon footprint, and the amount of energy that goes into production. However, in their Corporate Sustainability Report, I was very shocked to learn how Kraft is making real efforts in trying to be socially and environmentally responsible. By 2021, they aimed to participate in third party audits and actually stuck to that. However, I find this strange since I am surprised they were not already participating in third party audits, especially for how large of a corporation they are and a leader in the food industry. This is is concerning because there are many companies who have implemented this practice from the very start while Kraft has been a long time business, but has barely hopped on the train. They emphasize responsibly sourcing their products, which includes how they manage livestock health and sustainable agriculture. For the dairy cattle, they note how their dairy suppliers must fulfill certain requirements, like an animal welfare risk assessment. This was interesting because they provided information regarding harm rates, like how “98% of the cattle in our U.S. dairy supply do not have hock injuries”. There is additional information regarding more on other specifications of risk rates the cattle did not experience. However, there are not always specific details for all other ingredients that play a huge role in their products. For example, I am not too sure how the wheat from the macaroni is grown and could not find information about it in the report and it’s sustainable-ness. For other consumers also trying to figure out whether Kraft is sustainable, it is hard to navigate and understand the information when they provide general statements in certain areas but specific statistics in others. It was hard to tell whether the information was honest or just attempts at trying to paint the company in a positive light. Overall, Kraft can be more transparent in how they source their multiple different ingredients according to each product they sell. Including no information about sourcing and the sustainability regarding the macaroni and cheese on the box itself or their website is concerning. It makes me wonder whether their corporate sustainability report is just their opportunity to make up for the areas they are lacking in because if it is something to be proud of, it is very strange that they do not include any information on the product itself or the website.
Kraft emphasizes human rights being critical when it comes to their employees and suppliers. Additionally, the new implementation of third party audits can help ensure the adherence to their regulations. Kraft enforces their human rights standards on their suppliers and employees, which are extremely basic. To name a few, they prohibit child and forced labor, enforce safe working conditions, and recognize workers’ rights to clean water. It is disappointing to know that these rules even have to be enforced because these are basic human rights that every company should be adhering to. Unfortunately, since the industry standard is so low in terms of worker safety and conditions, Kraft should and needs to stick to these regulations and model these practices, especially as a large industry leader. The pandemic has particularly strained employees and presented different challenges as the demand for packaged food rose very quickly in a short amount of time. Workers are concerned for their safety and health, but also need to work in order to meet their basic needs. They enforce social distancing rules throughout their facilities, but in order to additionally secure employee attendance, ‘Kraft is providing a $100 weekly premium to nearly 19,000 full-time and temporary employees.’ This is great because during such an uneasy time, this is what all companies should be doing, if able. They are also committing $12 million globally to support those impacted by the pandemic and also donating to Feeding America. Overall, Kraft could be better at being more transparent regarding their production factories and providing more insight about them.