Kellogg's is a popular and very global household brand for cereals and other snacks, recognised by all. The company has 17 cereal brands under its UK range, including the classic kids’ choice Coco Pops and the more health-focused Special K. In 2018, Kellogg's annual revenue was $13.5 billion USD.
The Kellogg Company has come under fire for various reasons such as the company’s use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and glyphosate (a carcinogenic weedkiller), alleged tax avoidance, their problematic palm oil supply chain, high use of sugar, and their rebranding of Frosties cereal as an adult cereal to avoid the UK government's child obesity sugar rules.
On the wherefrom platform, The Kellogg Company has had a total of 1168 reviews and scores a 6 out of 10. This is a relatively high score and therefore in this piece, we examine Kellogg’s Corporate Responsibility Report 2018/2019 to see how the company is performing and what its targets are.
Kellogg’s sustainability strategy falls under four pillars:
"Nourishing with our foods"
- Food quality and safety, responsible marketing and wellbeing
"Feeding people in need"
- Food security
"Nurturing our planet"
- Climate change, food loss and waste, conserving natural resources and sustainable agriculture
"Living our founder’s values"
- Business ethics and compliance, diversity and inclusion, human rights
A brief scan of their commitments versus their progress shows some cause for concern. For instance, under sustainable agriculture, Kellogg pledges: “By 2020, [we will] improve sustainable agriculture by enabling 500,000 farmers to implement more sustainable farming practices using climate-smart agriculture and reducing post-harvest loss.” However, the sustainability report shows only 322,000 farmers have undergone this training meaning that in the next year they will have to engage 178,000 more farmers to meet their goal...
Other issues include important hyperlinks not linking to real webpages such as including a faulty link to explain how the company is progressing against its 2020 pledge to “responsibly source our 10 priority ingredients.” However, when looking at the specific page on the priority ingredients in the report, the company does seem to have done well in its “Progress Toward Responsible Sourcing Through Continuous Improvement and Direct Investment.” Each ingredient has a percentage next to it, but the company does not explain what the percentage refers to. Is the 96% next to corn meant to indicate that 96% of the corn is responsibly sourced? Is it the percentage of farms or suppliers which have received training on improvement or direct investment?
Interestingly, the company was awarded an A- by the CDP in 2018, and a 9/9 by the WWF for its exceptional palm oil sourcing. It was difficult to verify the CEP result because on the CDP website the Forests score for Kellogg is not available. Furthermore, the website reveals that the company’s score has declined in 2019 which would raise the question of what has happened to its palm oil sourcing strategy.
Looking at the WWF’s Palm Oil Buyers’ Score Card, Kellogg has actually been scored a 13 out of 22. This makes their claim that they scored a 9 out of 9 confusing.
Another misleading issue is the fact that Kellogg says it has “engaged 80% of direct suppliers to report their emissions.” This is misleading because it doesn’t mean that 80% of suppliers are reporting their emissions as we are not explicitly told what Kellogg means by “engaged”. This also contributes towards their progress indicator for the commitment: “By 2050, partner with our direct suppliers to help reduce their Scope 3 emissions by 50 percent (including agriculture).” Does reporting equal reducing? Upon further reading, the company explains it is a science-based target. This means that it has been independently verified as being ambitious and evidence-based. This target aligns "with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement - to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.”
Not all bad...
The company does have some promising updates. For instance, they have made improvements to their packaging. In 2018, 65% of timber-based packaging came from recycled content; the remainder was from verified sustainable sources. However, they don't explain the progress they have made for any other packaging type. They justify this by explaining that they are working towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by the end of 2025, but as this is a new commitment they've only begun tracking their progress. It's interesting to note that they are members of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, but do not explicitly mention it in their sustainability report. Kellogg has also reached a target for improving women’s livelihoods, although there are no metrics to say how many women farmers the company intended to help or how many they've actually successfully helped.
The company has also managed to add one or more positive nutrients or ingredients to 72% of its snack foods in the convenient nutrition (bars and other snacks) category - this is not the 100% that it pledges for by 2020 but is nonetheless good. Additionally, Kellogg is improving the nutrient and ingredient profile of its cereals. The brand is increasing nutrients like vitamin A, C, E and D, iron, and folic acid. It is also reducing sugar and sodium (salt) as well as removing artificial colours and flavours.
In 2018, Kellogg adopted “traffic light” labelling for under 80% of cereal packages in the UK and Ireland. These labels are really important because they show in a clear colour scheme how healthy products are. However, Kellogg should be striving to label 100% of its cereal packages.
Overall, Kellogg has good targets that are not particularly innovative but are nonetheless necessary and comprehensive. The fact that Kellogg also has science-based targets is a show of strength because it means that it is setting targets that can help reduce global temperature rise (rather than simply reducing the company’s impact). The company is also taking action in pertinent areas of its industry, such as improving the nutritional profile of its products. However, the misleading language used, confusing URLs, disparities between reporting and external information, and at times little progress against its targets leads us to conclude that the company still has a lot of work to do.
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