Affiliated with the notable and exclusive East Harlem restaurant, Rao’s, Rao’s Homemade Marinara sauce is made with only a few simple ingredients, ones that a home cook would use in a from-scratch sauce. Unfortunately, Rao’s and its parent company, Sovos Brands, reveal no information on where the ingredients for this sauce are sourced, how its made, and their sustainability initiatives. Going into this review, I thought that because Rao’s presents itself as a premium, “natural” brand, the company would be transparent. I gave Rao’s Marinara .5 planets overall because of its short and recognizable ingredients list, but I’d like the company to improve on its transparency and environmental and social sustainability.
Rao’s Homemade boasts that its sauces are only made with simple, recognizable ingredients. And from looking at the ingredient list alone, this seems true. Its classic marinara sauce is composed of tomatoes, salt, basil leaf, olive oil, onions, salt, garlic, basil, black pepper, and oregano, all ingredients that a home cook could find in their kitchen. Transparent about what its marinara sauce includes as well as what it lacks, Rao’s emphasizes that its sauces “... have no tomato blends, no paste, no water, no starch no filler, no colors, no added sugar.” Despite the famous Italian restaurant’s and brand’s sauces, I found no information on from where Rao’s sources its ingredients—farms, countries, regions, or continents—which I found odd, considering it claims its marinara sauce is natural. Rao’s calls its sauces “all natural,” but that term is unregulated, so that does not provide information on the sustainability of its ingredients.
One sustainability plus of Rao’s products is that the company packages all of its non-perishable items in glass bottles, instead of plastic. If a country, state, or municipal has a glass-recycling program, glass can be recycled and reformed into other glass products, giving glass an indefinite life cycle. However, whether glass is recycled depends on the consumer to place the cleaned-out bottle in the proper bin and local recycling infrastructure and industries. In the United States, roughly 30% of glass is recycled, a low number considering the material has a decomposition rate of one million years.
If glass breaks, it cannot be recycled, sending it to the landfill. Made from sand and high heat, glass production depends on fossil fuels, but I still see it as a more favorable alternative to plastic, which is produced from petroleum, giving it a significant carbon footprint. People who purchase Rao sauces and soups would benefit from reusing or up-cycling their jars. I would like to know where and who Rao’s purchases its jars and ingredients from, because without this information, it seems like the company is concealing information on its products.
Rao’s website dishes out the exclusive Harlem restaurant’s heartwarming business history but not transparency on the making or sourcing of its sauces, sharing that the recipe for Rao’s tomato sauces was either created or based on the restaurant’s marinara sauce. It writes that Rao’s Homemade sauces are “hand prepared” and “slowly simmered,” but those phrases do not reveal any information on Rao’s Marinara Sauce’s operations. In small font under the ingredient list, the phrase, “Some product may be imported” sits. Which ingredients are imported, and from where? I found the vagueness of that statement questionable, and the lack of details suggests that Rao’s does not use sustainable production or sourcing practices.
Sovos, a company that acquires brands sith “simple” ingredients and “rich” stories, owns Rao’s Homemade. Sovos provides no information on its sustainability efforts, instead capitalizing on its brands’ virtuous taglines, leadership, and familial origin stories. Sovos gives the same vague information about the marinara sauce as Rao’s website, using phrases like “pure Italian olive oil” “hand-picked, naturally ripened tomatoes from southern Italy,” and “small batches.” Sovos’s and Rao’s familial, sentimental, pathos-oriented language is a form of green-washing, focusing the consumer on a wholesome story rather than the reality of Rao’s products and its sustainability efforts. Across both websites, I found no information on either of the company’s social justice or sustainability initiatives or labor practices. Sadly, for a family-owned and founded company, I could not find any information on who currently makes Rao’s marinara sauce. I’d like to see considerably more transparency in Rao’s sustainability efforts, its product sourcing, and labor practices.