Towards eco-efficient food supply chains: Environmental and economic life cycle sustainability of confectionary and frozen desserts

  • Antonios Konstantas

Student thesis: Phd


Confectionary and frozen desserts are some of the most frequently purchased food types in the UK. However, little is known about their life cycle environmental and economic sustainability. Therefore, this study sets out to evaluate these, considering the following most-consumed product categories in the UK: biscuit, cakes, chocolates and ice cream, both at the product and sectoral levels. The types of biscuits considered are: crackers, low fat & sugar, semi-sweet, chocolate-coated and sandwich biscuits with chocolate or vanilla cream. The following cakes are evaluated: whole cakes, slices, pies, cupcakes and cheesecake. Three types of chocolate products are included: moulded chocolate, chocolate countlines and chocolates in bag. Finally, vanilla and chocolate ice creams are assessed, considering both regular and premium products. A life cycle approach has been applied to evaluate the sustainability of these products and sectors, using life cycle assessment (LCA) for environmental and life cycle costing (LCC) for economic evaluation. A multi-criteria decision analysis has been carried out to assess the eco-efficiency of the products and sectors. At the product level, the environmental sustainability analysis demonstrates that, in addition to being healthier, low fat & sugar biscuits have the lowest impacts across the products for ten of the 18 categories. They are followed by whole cakes with the lowest impacts for four categories. Chocolates in bag are the less environmentally sustainable product for seven indicators and cheesecake in five. The results of LCC suggest that vanilla cream biscuits are the less expensive (£0.717/kg) and cake slices are the most costly, with a factor of six higher life cycle costs than vanilla biscuits (£4.49/kg). Cupcake is the most profitable product with the highest value added (£11.28/kg), while semi-sweet biscuits are least profitable, with 32 times lower value added (£0.352/kg). Semi-sweet biscuits are the least eco-efficient product overall, with the worst scores for 11 out of 17 eco-efficiency indicators. Raw materials are the key hotspot for both environmental and economic impacts. At the sectoral level, the biscuits sub-sector is the less environmentally sustainable, followed by chocolates, ice cream and cakes. The economic sustainability analysis shows the biscuits sub-sector to have the highest life cycle costs (£1.47 bn) whereas chocolates have the highest annual value added (£3.52 bn). The confectionary and frozen desserts sectors emit annually 7.15 Mt CO2 eq., contributing 8.7% to the total GHG emissions of the UK food and drink sector. The contribution to primary energy consumption is nearly 18%. The biscuits sub-sector is the less eco-efficient, with worst performance in 11 out of 17 indicators. The most eco-efficient is the chocolates sector for all but four indicators, where cakes prevail. Overall, the confectionary sector is more eco-efficient than the frozen desserts. The eco-efficiency results are sensitive to sales prices and the annual sales volumes. The weighting of the eco-efficiency indicators is also crucial for the total eco-efficiency score. This study concludes by providing recommendations for mitigating environmental impacts, increasing economic benefits and optimising eco-efficiency. The cultivation of raw materials should include more effective use and more efficient production of fertilisers, combined with the use of organic fertilisers. Extensive collaboration between manufacturers and raw material producers is crucial since most of the impacts occur in the raw material production phase. Manufacturers, in turn, should decrease the content of sugar in the products through adequate recipe reformulations. Additionally, energy demand reduction should be targeted via measures, such as real-time monitoring and heat integration, as part of an energy management strategy. Retailers should strive to reduce the refrigerated storage time and to use environm
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdisa Azapagic (Supervisor) & Laurence Stamford (Supervisor)


  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Confectionary
  • Frozen desserts
  • Ice cream
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolates
  • Value added
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Sustainable food supply chains
  • Sustainable production and consumption
  • Eco-efficiency
  • Life cycle costing (LCC)
  • Economic sustainability

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