Growing consumer demand for healthy, responsibly produced food is leading more and more big food companies to embrace transparency, simplify their product formulas and highlight the integrity of their foods: Examples include Campbell’s and Chipotle, which both launched ‘what’s in my food’ campaigns in the past year; Panera, Nestlé, General Mills and McDonald’s, all of which have eliminated a range of artificial ingredients from a wide variety of products; and Mars, Kellogg, ConAgra and Campbell’s, all of which have voluntarily labeled items containing genetically modified ingredients since the beginning of the year.
A number of the UK’s largest food producers have also pulled back the curtain to give the BBC an all-access pass into their factories, to give Brits an inside look at the mass production processes of some of their favorite foods, from commodity crop to finished product.
The BBC2 documentary series, “Inside the Factory: How Our Favourite Foods Are Made,” features co-hosts Gregg Wallace and Cherry Healey dividing and conquering recon duties into various aspects of production of some of the UK’s most popular foods. The series, which premiered in 2015, has so far delved into the inner workings of:
- Bread: Episode 1 highlighted Allied Bread Makers, producer of the best-selling white and whole wheat loaves in Britain, which produces roughly 1.5 million loaves, 5 million rolls and 1.3 million packs of muffins per week);
- Milk: In Episode 2, the show visited Arla Foods, the UK’s largest dairy and cheese manufacturer - a farmer-owned dairy cooperative, where milk goes from cow to carton in 24 hrs. Wallace visited one of the world’s largest fresh milk processing plants, while Healey followed the milk to Arla’s cheese factory in Devon, one of the largest in the UK, which produces 37,000 tons of cheese – mostly cheddar - per year; and to a Unilever factory that produces ice cream favorites such as Magnum bars (10 million/week) and Cornettos (5 million/week); and
- Chocolate: In Episode 3, Wallace followed the transformation of cocoa beans to Kit Kats at Nestlé’s factory in York, one of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers, produces 7M bars/day; while Healey visited the largest British-owned chocolate manufacturer - Thornton’s - factory in Derbyshire, which makes 25 million boxes of assorted chocolates and 9 million Easter eggs per year.
- Cereal: In Episode 1 of Season 2, which premiered last week, The Kellogg Company opens the doors to its Manchester factory – Europe’s largest cereal factory – which produces one million packs of favorites such as Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Rice Krispies and Crunchy Nut every day (According to the series, Brits eat more cereal than any other nation in Europe; 87 percent of adults eat it every morning.). Wallace charts the journey of the world’s most commonly produced grain: corn (in this case, grown in Argentina) as it becomes Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, some of which are then turned into Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Frosties (aka Frosted Flakes here) before being shipped out to retailers. And Healey investigates Weetabix, the UK’s most popular cereal, made at Weetabix Food Company’s factory in Northamptonshire. All of the wheat is grown by 160 farmers within a 50-mi radius of the factory.
- Crisps (aka chips): The most recent episode, which aired Tuesday, took viewers inside PepsiCo's Walkers Crisp Factory in Leicester, the biggest crisp factory in Europe.
While the series doesn’t address supply chain ethics, environmental impacts or other sustainability issues related to mass food production, the food industry is slowly responding to consumer demand for transparency with regard to these issues — many have begun to disclose their efforts to eliminate contentious ingredients such as palm oil, and employ a variety of tools designed to help eradicate forced labor and other human rights abuses from their supply chains.