Granola bars can be a quick and easy snack for when you’re on the go or looking for something simple to fulfill your hunger and cravings. However, with so many different options to choose from, finding a granola bar that is sustainable and good for the environment, in addition to tasting good, can be difficult to navigate and may seem a bit daunting. Nature Valley’s Oats ‘N Honey Crunchy Granola Bars are not very transparent about their ingredients and sources of labor, making it difficult to ensure that they are sustainable and have just labor practices. Despite the company’s efforts to advertise as natural, outdoorsy, and earthy, their sustainability efforts and genuine care for and protection of the planet are questionable.
The Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey Crunchy Granola Bars list ten ingredients: whole grain oats, sugar, canola oil, rice flour, honey, salt, brown sugar syrup, baking soda, soy lecithin, and natural flavor. Nature Valley prides itself on “real ingredients” with no artificial flavors or colors. However, while the company claims these efforts, they are not very transparent about the sources of their ingredients, so I will be reviewing these ingredients on a general level. A report came out saying that Nature Valley is deceiving its consumers by saying that all their ingredients are natural, because a lab test showed that glyphosate, an active ingredient in herbicides, was found in these granola bars. It is most likely that the glyphosate came from the whole grain oats since this chemical is commonly used in grain production. However, oats being this bar’s main ingredients makes it pretty sustainable, as oats use fewer resources to produce compared to other grains. Sugar is a crop that uses a lot of water, and farming it fuels deforestation, making it one of the less sustainable ingredients. The canola oil they use could have GMOs and herbicides in it depending on where it’s sourced from, which is why it’s important to hold this company accountable and ensure that they are transparent. Rice flour has little environmental impacts, making it a sustainable ingredient. However, depending on the source of the rice flour, labor practices may be unjust and exploitative for farmworkers. Using honey as an ingredient is much more sustainable compared to sugar, as it uses less land and water. However, once again, without the source of Nature Valley’s honey, it can be hard to tell for sure how sustainable their honey is. The source of the salt used can also help bring to light how sustainable this product is, but it is likely that this salt is produced through solution mining which involves digging a well into an underground salt deposit and lots of water. Baking soda is also made through the extraction of minerals through mining, which is energy-intensive and requires large amounts of water. All of these mining operations can also threaten biodiversity and wildlife habitats. While soy lecithin is pretty sustainable, some concerns it raises are that growing soybeans requires deforestation, and most soy is genetically modified and grown with pesticides that are environmentally destructive. Additionally, the term “natural flavors” does not make clear what these ingredients actually are, making it hard to determine their sustainability. The lack of transparency about the ingredients and their sources in the Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey Crunchy Granola Bars makes their sustainability questionable.
Nature Valley could be much more transparent about how their granola bars are made and the sources of their ingredients. It can be assumed that the manufacturing process to produce these granola bars requires large amounts of energy and labor. However, General Mills, the company that owns Nature Valley, has said that they have been implementing energy efficiency and reduction projects across the entire company. Additionally, Nature Valley products are found in stores across the country which requires lots of transportation and energy in order to ship these products. However, General Mills has set the goal to source 100% renewable electricity for their global operations by 2030, but they have not yet reported the steps they are going to take to reach this goal. Nature Valley has also set a goal of making all of their packaging fully recyclable by 2025 and have started making their Crunchy bar wrappers store drop-off recyclable. Additionally, the boxes that these granola bars come in are cardboard and already recyclable. While these goals are ambitious, there is not enough evidence or proof that they are working towards these goals. More specificity and transparency from General Mills about their manufacturing and packaging processes will be necessary in order to boost their rating.
Similar to the previous sections, Nature Valley is not very transparent about who makes their products. However, they do mention that, in 2019, they began providing financial support to help farmers adopt regenerative agriculture practices in regions that supply their oats. The goal of these regenerative agriculture practices is to enhance biodiversity, water management, soil health, and farmer livelihoods. General Mills has set the goal of advancing regenerative agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. However, they are currently only providing this financial support to eight of their oat farmers. While this is a positive achievement, I feel like a huge corporation like General Mills can be doing much more with the money and resources that they have in order to reach out to more farmers. The corporation has also come out with statements saying that they ensure workplace safety, global inclusion, sustainable operations, and employee benefits and well-being. They have also stated that they are working towards racial and gender equity. However, outside of these brief and generic statements, they give no information about any of their other employees or labor practices, or how they are taking the steps to ensure this safe, inclusive work environment. While saying all of these things is great, it can be performative and not actually reflect the values of the company. General Mills will need to provide more information and evidence about how they are working towards these workplace goals in order to achieve a higher rating. This lack of transparency makes it very difficult to be able to judge Nature Valley’s work environment and trust their sustainability efforts.