The Weetabix Food Company is home to some of Britain’s most iconic breakfast brands, including Alpen and of course the famous Weetabix, which continues to be the nation’s favourite cereal. Based in Northamptonshire, the business employs over 1,000 people, exports products to over 80 countries and produces over 70 million Weetabix biscuits a week. It is therefore a very busy operation and a business that never stops evolving.
The Weetabix Food Company takes its responsibilities to support people, society and the environment very seriously. In 2019 the company introduced their new ‘Change For Better’ framework following a strategic review of the approach to sustainability. Katie Hart, consultant in Berwick Partners’ Consumer Practice, recently had the pleasure of speaking to John Petre, Supply Chain and Technical Director at Weetabix Food Company and leader of the sustainability programme, to discuss what sustainability means to the organisation, the progress that has been achieved so far and the impact this has had on the company’s culture and their people.
What does sustainability mean to Weetabix?
Sustainability has always been at the heart of the Weetabix Food Company. Our purpose is to help people live better lives by providing better breakfasts. We started out as a company with strong links to farmers and our local community, with a real focus on health and to this day much of the progress we are making in sustainability goes back to these roots. For example, our 50-mile sourcing policy for Weetabix wheat, the recyclability of our packaging and our focus on reducing our carbon footprint.
Can you give an overview of the journey you have been on and what you are particularly proud of achieving so far?
I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve achieved to date with sustainability, and of our ambitious plans for the future. We never stand still and as a cross-functional team focused on sustainability, we each take responsibility for driving our Change for Better sustainability strategy forward across our key pillars of sustainable ingredients; reducing packaging waste; efficient operations and health and well-being.
We’re particularly proud of our achievements in relation to the recyclability of our packaging, with over 90% of our packaging now fully recyclable. And we’re making really good progress towards the WRAP goal of 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025. In fact, by the end of this year we’ll be at 99% recyclable due to changes in our biscuit wrap. We also worked hard to switch to 100% recyclable bottles for our ‘On The Go’ drinks last year. These changes required a considerable amount of work and collaboration between our packaging team and our suppliers. Not only identifying the right materials, but shelf life and transit testing too.
Reducing our carbon footprint as a business is another big focus. The packaging changes we’re making across our product portfolio will reduce the total carbon footprint of our packaging by 20% this year which is a great achievement. Our local sourcing strategy is another critical part of this programme. Our commitment to sustainable ingredient sourcing is in our DNA as a business and sourcing locally enables us to keep food miles low, while continuing to reduce our carbon footprint. We’re really proud of that commitment and the relationships we have with our suppliers.
How is sustainability spoken about at board level?
We are really committed to sustainability throughout the business. We have a Sustainability Steering Group who meet monthly to set annual targets, review external standards and practices, assess progress and establish plans to engage Weetabix employees with sustainability progress and initiatives.
That group is made up of people from across the business, from different functions, to reflect the fact that sustainability has to be woven into everything we do. And that commitment to sustainability is supported at every level throughout the business. We communicate regularly at Board level and down throughout the organisation about our strategy, ambitions, our progress and our notable achievements.
What impact has your sustainability strategy had on your culture and people?
There’s a real sense of excitement around the work we’re doing in sustainability and an eagerness to be involved. We regularly share updates on our sustainability journey across the widest range of topics, from initiatives around health and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion, through to our environmental impact and our work with local communities. We all take pride in what we’re achieving together in sustainability.
What practical steps and advice would you give a business at the start of their sustainability journey?
Be clear on what you want to achieve and how you’re going to get there and ensure your sustainability strategy is wedded to your business strategy from the outset. This will allow you to succeed. Getting buy-in at a senior level is simple at a company like Weetabix where sustainability is such a core part of our heritage, but for others it needs to evolve in a way that is authentic and naturally links to the business, with clear targets and tangible goals along the way that employees can easily grasp and play their part in achieving.
And wherever possible, bring partners and suppliers on the journey with you. Our close relationship with our suppliers means we can work together to achieve our sustainability goals, driving innovation and learning from each other to maximise our results.