Back to Nature cookies – ethical review (2023)

I bought two kinds of cookies from Back to Nature at the Grocery Outlet last week – Chocolate Chunk and Classic Creme. Cookies are one of my favorite things to bake but (similar to my excuse for buying several pizzas) I was feeling worn out last month and bought these attractive-looking boxed cookies, together with the pizzas and some Deschutes beer to complete my comfort food trifecta!

Back to Nature cookies – review

If you’re vegan, you may have come across articles mentioning that Oreo cookies are actually vegan. However, as this article points out, there are other aspects to a product’s ethics other than whether the ingredients are plant-based or not, and the palm oil in Mondelēz International’s Oreos is a key factor. So, I was excited to find that the Back to Nature cookies are not only vegan but also taste great – and one variety is very similar to Oreos!

Don’t get me wrong, cookies that you bake at home are likely to taste better, but these cookies aren’t at all bad, ranking above average in taste and texture compared to other store-bought cookies that I’ve had in the US. The Chocolate Chunk cookies are at least as good, if not better than the other chocolate chip cookies that I’ve had here (e.g., Newman’s Own and Whole Foods’ 365 brand). Both varieties of the Back to Nature cookies have typical sugar content for this kind of cookie (there’s a little less sugar in the Classic Creme cookies compared to ultra-sweet Oreos) but they both have the benefit of being significantly lower in saturated fat compared to 365 and Newman’s Own cookies.

Back to Nature cookies – ethical review (1)

Back to Nature cookies – ingredients

Chocolate Chunk cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Semi-Sweet Chocolate (Sugar, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), Cane Sugar, Safflower Oil, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate), Brown Rice Syrup, Sea Salt.

Classic Creme cookies: Unbleached Wheat Flour, Cane Sugar, Palm Oil, Safflower Oil, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Brown Rice Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Ammonium Bicarbonate) Sea Salt, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavor.

Back to Nature Foods – ownership

I’m realizing now that this could be is an example of me buying a product that looks kind of sustainable and socially responsible and then finding a different story when I do a little research. See, for example, the story of the Sweet Earth pizzas which turned out to be owned by Nestlé (although Sweet Earth is still a good company, IMO). Basically, at one point, Back to Nature Foods was owned in part by Mondelēz International – the same multinational food giant that makes Oreos!! That is, until 2017, when Back to Nature Foods was acquired by a company called B&G Foods. So, the question then becomes: is this just a brand that’s more ethical in name than in nature? Let’s do an ethical review!

Ethical rating for Back to Nature cookies

Overall, I think that these Back to Nature cookies deserve 3.5 Green Stars (Chocolate Chunk variety) and 3 Green Stars (Classic Creme variety) for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • All Back to Nature products are made with plant-based ingredients, with the exception of a few products that contain honey.
  • My central problem with the cookies is that the company provides zero information on ingredient sustainability or social impact (on the package or online). One Back to Nature product is organic, but these cookies are not.
  • This is especially true of the Classic Creme cookies which contain palm oil. Back to Nature provide no info on palm oil sourcing. Perhaps they are every bit as bad as Oreo’s in that respect… we just don’t know.
  • Similarly, there’s no information on sourcing of chocolate – either the human impact (which can include child labor and slavery) or the environmental impact (which can include deforestation and some of the worst pesticides).
  • The box is made from recycled (and recyclable) paperboard and printed with vegetable inks.
  • However, the inner wrap is not compostable or recyclable, nor is the tray that holds the cookies as it’s made from polystyrene. That’s disappointing as polystyrene is not eco-friendly.
  • One thing I do like about the packaging is that it’s very compact, relative to the substantial amount of cookies inside, minimizing the amount of plastic needed.
  • Back to Nature is “working with The Nature Conservancy to plant more than 130,000 trees throughout the United States in 2020, as a supporter of the Plant a Billion Trees Program”.
  • To put that into perspective, that’s a donation of $200,000, which amounts to about 1% of the company’s net profit (EBITA) back in 2017.
  • It must be said that The Nature Conservancy has received a fair amount of criticism and doubt over its motives and links to the oil and gas industry.
  • Back to Nature was owned in part by Mondelēz International but is now owned by B&G Foods which also own various brands of frozen food (Green Giant), Mexican food (Ortega) and spices.

Overall, it’s a mix of good and bad. Perhaps the packaging is a good example – the outer box is made from recycled paperboard but the inner tray is made from polystyrene. Similarly, the products are vegan but the company has not disclosed essential information on sourcing of key ingredients.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Back to Nature cookies:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value.
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Chocolate Chunk cookies
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact for the Classic Creme cookies

The Classic Creme cookies get a lower score because they contain palm oil, with no info on sourcing. If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )


Does Back to Nature use sustainable palm oil? ›

Back to Nature cookies contain no palm oil certified for sustainable production. Animals are most likely responsible for the sugar content of these cookies. Plantations in Southeast Asia's rainforests help to clear land for palm oil plantations, which threaten endangered species such as the orangutan.

Are Back to Nature plant based cookies vegan? ›

With the exception of honey, in our plant based snacks, Back to Nature avoids any ingredients sourced from animals. Our plant based products may also contain ingredients derived from neither plants nor animals, such as ammonium bicarbonate, baking soda, salt, minerals and vitamins.

Are Back to Nature chocolate chunk cookies vegan? ›

Chocolate Chunk Cookies by Back To Nature - GTFO It's Vegan.

Are all cookies plant based? ›

Like other baked goods, cookies are traditionally made using animal-based ingredients. Butter and eggs are the most common animal products found in cookies. In addition to butter, dairy can also make its way into store-bought cookies in the form of whey.

What is the difference between palm oil and sustainable palm oil? ›

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL? There are different definitions of sustainable palm oil, but at its core this refers to palm oil that has been produced with the lowest environmental impact possible. This includes minimising impact to wildlife, and adhering to high standards of human rights.

Is sustainable palm oil better than palm oil? ›

Unlike sustainably produced palm oil, unsustainable produced palm oil has significant negative implications for the environment. One of the main concerns is deforestation, as vast areas of tropical rainforests are cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

Who owns Back to Nature foods? ›

Why do they say plant-based not vegan? ›

Both meal plans have made headlines for their health benefits in recent years and while they are similar, there are some key differences: Vegan diets eliminate all animal products, while plant-based diets do not necessarily eliminate animal products, but focus on eating mostly plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, ...

Are plant-based cookies healthier? ›

Depending on the recipe, and more specifically how much refined sugars they contain vegan cookies probably aren't the healthiest option when it comes to a sweet treat. Opting for a recipe that uses natural fruit-sugars to sweeten them could be the healthiest option.

Why are vegan cookies healthier? ›

That means no eggs, butter or milk, as well as some sugars and honeys as well. A lot of times, regular baking calls for a lot of artificial and heavily processed foods whereas vegan baking usually uses better-for-you alternatives to less-than-healthy ingredients.

Do the Girl Scouts have any vegan cookies? ›

Girl Scout Cookie season generally runs from January through April — and in 2023, vegans will have a number of cookies to choose from. The most exciting option is the Raspberry Rally, which Girl Scouts of the USA announced in August 2022. The cookie will exclusively be sold online, beginning Feb. 27, 2023.

Which Girl Scout cookies are not vegan? ›

Peanut Butter Patties (ABC Bakers)

It's important to note that these cookies are only vegan when baked by ABC Bakers—their twins called Tagalongs are not vegan! These cookies are a must-have for anyone who believes there's no better combination than chocolate and peanut butter.

Why can't you eat vegan cookie dough? ›

But, it's not just eggs you need to worry about

Ah, so you think you've outsmarted the system by making eggless cookie dough. Well, not so fast. The CDC and FDA warn that even eggless or vegan cookie doughs can make you susceptible to food poisoning.

Are Oreos vegan? ›

SUMMARY. Oreo cookies are made without any animal products. However, the company that makes them says these cookies are made in facilities that handle milk. As a result, there may be traces of milk in Oreo cookies.

What is the difference between vegan and non vegan cookies? ›

Vegan ingredients are always plant-based, and some vegans even avoid honey because they refuse to steal from the bees. Vegan desserts won't use butter, milk, or eggs. Instead, you'll find substitutes like avocado, black beans, or other dairy options like milk produced from almonds or oats.

How do you know if a product uses sustainable palm oil? ›

Look for the RSPO label to ensure you purchase products made with certified sustainable palm oil. This label gives you the confidence that the palm oil was produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

Is there any truly sustainable palm oil? ›

For these reasons, certified sustainable palm plantations do not truly have a lower environmental impact. Although the growing of palm oil cannot ultimately be sustainable, at present it is one of the best alternatives to growing other oils. It is a more efficient, and less land intensive, crop than any other oil.

How do I know if palm oil is sustainable? ›

Don't just avoid the problem by boycotting palm oil altogether; instead be part of the solution by supporting Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) as a minimum. Look out for products bearing the RSPO Trademark, which show that they contain a minimum 95% of CSPO.

What companies did you find that use sustainably produced palm oil? ›

These companies have been given high palm oil sustainability ratings.
  • Dr. Bronners. ...
  • ConAgra Foods. ConAgra Foods is a multi-billion dollar company producing many products you see on supermarket shelves. ...
  • Tom's of Maine. ...
  • Kellogg's. ...
  • ‍Hershey's.

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