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Ethical Food & Drink – Crisps

The big crisp manufacturers make a lot of noise about the taste of their products, but prefer to only whisper about what they are made of. The label will usually reveal a lengthy list of ingredients, most of which are artificial flavourings and other additives. Alongside the health problems associated with fried and fatty foods, these additives are thought to exacerbate hyperactivity in children. A better option is the (slightly less unhealthy) organic equivalent.

Keeping ki‍‍‍d‍‍‍s healthy

The Food Commission has sharply criticised snacks promoted by footballers, and accused food marketing firms of undermining children’s nutrition. A supermarket survey failed to find any healt‍‍‍hy children’s food promoted using football imagery. Walkers was the main culprit with its tartrazine-laced Footballs, promotions in association with Gary Lineker and David Seaman, and an FA Premier League sticker offer in its other brands. One mother on the Food Commission’s Parents’ Jury said: ‘It would be better if children were shown that the way to emulate their sporting heroes is to eat and drink healthily.’

Crisps can be healthier than a lot of junk foods, but they should be eaten in moderation. A study by Baby Organix found that children are consuming more than twice as much salt in their diet as the government recommends. The UK Asthma & Allergy Research Centre says that ‘significant changes in children’s hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet’. It is recommended that brilliant blue (E133), tartrazine (E102), quinoline yellow (E104) and sunset yellow (E110) – colours which appear most commonly in snacks such as Monster Munch – should be eliminated from kids’ diets. Monosodium glutamate (E621) is another controversial additive present in many crisps, despite being banned for use in baby foods.

Some crisp manufacturers are also moving into the wholesale use of artificial sweeteners because they cost a fraction of the price of sugar. Many are then ignoring their legal obligation to state directly under the brand name that a product contains sweeteners, consigning it instead to the small print.

Natural and organic

Tra’fo, Kettle, Cape Cod and Jonathan Crisp products contain only ‘natural’ ingredients. Companies have an orange circle in the GM column on the table if not all of their products can be guaranteed free from GM-derived ingredients. Although companies in Britain have made considerable progress in sourcing non-GM derivatives, many on the ‘red list’ are there because of a lack of assurance that dairy ingredients such as whey are from non-GM fed cows.

Certified organic products are always totally GM-free. Many supermarkets are now selling own-brand organic crisps, which are being manufactured for them by companies such as Stour Valley Foods. Tra’fo crisps are all organic and Kettle has an organic range.

Monsanto is currently developing bruisefree potatoes, as well as a ‘higher-solids’ potato, which will absorb less oil during processing. It remains to be seen whether they will fare better than its Bt potatoes, which companies such as McDonalds, P&G and Pepsi subsidiary Frito-Lay are now refusing to use, even in the US, due to the high level of public concern about the technology.


Old-fashioned polypropylene packets, as used by Seabrooks and a lot of the ‘10p snacks’, are in theory easier to recycle than the plasticated foils which most manufacturers now use.

Pringles cartons are the ultimate packaging excess. They contain six different materials, including steel, aluminium, PET and polyethylene, some of them in composite form. As Pringles now make up at least ten per cent of the entire UK ‘bagged snacks’ market, they are becoming a significant contributor to landfill waste.

Key Research

Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Food & Drink:

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Tra’fo, Jonathan Crisp, Golden Wonder, Highlander Snacks, Kettle Chips, Red Mill, Stour Valley, Seabrook, Cape Cod, Mission Foods, Brannigans, KP, Walkers, Pringles

Disclosure:  Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning we earn commission if you click through and make a purchase. Placement and use of these links has no bearing in terms of the ethical scores that we give to a brand.  All commission earned by The Good Shopping Guide is re-invested into the research carried out by The Ethical Company Organisation.

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