I love the taste of Nutella and the versatility of the product, however, the carcinogenic concerns in addition to the questionable sustainability certifications by RSPO make me feel as though I shouldn’t be a consumer of Nutella products. I respect their awareness that consumers are looking for sustainable products but question how strongly they truly live up to sustainable ideals. I will be looking into alternative products for Nutella that don’t include palm oil at all and have more concrete sustainability values, and I would recommend that you do the same. As for the company, they should consider clarifying their process and distribution and proving sustainability by using only truly sustainable ingredients and packaging (or even better, eliminating palm oil and using plant-based plastic containers). They should also consider decreasing the amount of sugar in the product and making it a healthier product overall. A suggestion for an alternative to palm oil might be cocoa butter. Since Nutella is a chocolate flavored spread and cocoa is already one of the ingredients, this alternative might fit well into the recipe while helping fight deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. In conclusion, Nutella still has a way to go with being a sustainable food product, but I’m glad to see that they at least have the importance of sustainability on their radar.
The website shares the 7 key ingredients as the following: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, milk, cocoa, lecithin, and vanillin. I immediately looked into the palm oil tab on their website to “discover more.” The first statement is that the palm oil “is 100% RSPO certified sustainable palm oil and can be traced back to the mills, guaranteeing that it does not come from plantations subject to deforestation. Sustainable palm oil aims to protect forests, workers and communities.” This sounded great, so I looked into the RSPO a bit further.
Their purpose as described on their website aligns with granting companies a sustainability certificate for their palm oil uses. They visit the locations and grant the certificate if the palm oil usage is deemed “sustainable” but these metrics aren’t clearly defined. Their website talks about the importance of “sustainable palm oil production” but their standards are not clear nor quantified. This makes me question whether it is a legitimate process.
Although the RSPO claims to update their standards every 5 years, Greenpeace had identified that in 2013 “the RSPO [was] not producing anything near to truly sustainable palm oil.” In their Certifying Destruction report, Greenpeace determined that at this point in time, the RSPO did not prohibit forest conversion, limit GHG emissions, prevent peatland or forest fires, or truly uphold their standards. Greenpeace also identified a lack of traceability which is concerning and may indicate that the RSPO certificate is only a way for companies to purchase the concept of sustainability. Greenpeace proves trustworthy in my mind because they are a nongovernmental organization that is spread all of the world to look out for the environment. They’ve taken many environmental actions and have brought awareness of major issues to the public. They have also exposed the truth about other companies before which leads me to believe that they are believe in spreading the truth.
In additional concern, four years ago, Italian supermarkets removed the product because of claims that contaminants were potentially carcinogenic. While sufficient evidence found it to be carcinogenic, no level or standard was set. Another possible issue for sustainability stems from the SDG #3 (good health and wellbeing). This goal may not be met by this product considering the extreme about of sugar is contains. Just 2 tablespoons of Nutella contains 21 grams of sugar. Overall the product is not as healthy as it is advertised to be. Furthermore, Nutella’s website emphasizes their support for sustainability with just a quick glance, but as I looked deeper into it, it seems that their standards are also vague and most likely performative.
The production and distribution process of Nutella is not completely clear. There are many production facilities across the world. One map identifies that the ingredients and factories are all spread out which brings up concerns about carbon emissions to transport everything. The ingredient of palm oil, although it is a highly efficient crop that produces more oil per land than any other vegetable oil, is correlated with extreme deforestation.
The packaging should also be mentioned. The Nutella container that my family had purchased was plastic based. The company pledges to be 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 but I think this pledge is overwhelmingly broad. And we need to be wary of the concept of plastic recyclables considering the EPA found in 2017 that only 8% of plastics are actually recycled in the US.
Billionaire, Giovani Ferrero (head of Ferrero Group), owns Nutella. His father invented Nutella in 1964 — a time in which the climate revolution had not quite gained significant traction yet. I found that the original recipe has been important to keep the same. When the company had changed it before, they faced backlash from angry customers who missed the old consistency and taste. With that in mind, the product was not initially designed with sustainability in mind. While Nutella does claim to support sustainable ideals, answering the question of who makes it is difficult to trace. As previously mentioned, the factories and ingredients are extensively spread out and mostly unclear.