A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Organic = Independent? Think Again....

Not quite a post on food per se, but this is something interesting I wanted to share. Some of these may be known, but I didn't realise how many of the seemingly independent businesses are run by a parent company. This might help in making choices next time you are grocery shopping…it will for me! See the charts listing organic companies owned by corporations and the independent organic companies below.

Most of these brands started out as small, independent companies with little presence in the food industry, but their ability to expand was limited. Enter the “Big Co’s” with vast resources and money to back these small companies and it sounds like a great way to increase their distribution of healthier foods.

But, as noted in this article, a bigger company will look for ways to produce more product at a lower cost. This results in changes to the way a product is processed and the ingredients used. Not all parent companies have changed their newly acquired organic/natural brand’s ingredients, but the fact that this happens makes me wearier on what I choose.
I’d prefer to help support the little guys struggling against the top dog conglomerates in this ever-increasingly competitive market. Check out this list of independent companies still working for themselves if you care to support them too.

Some of the companies I was surprised to see owned by a big corporation are:
- Ben and Jerry’s owned by Unilever
- Naked Juice is owned by PepsiCo
- General Mills owning LARA Bar
- Coca-Cola owning Odwalla
- Kraft owns Back to Nature
- Hain Foods owns many natural/organic companies and I like Hain, but Heinz has a big stake in Hain....geez!

Ok, so it's not all that bad.  A few positive outcomes from larger corps controlling the small organic labels are organic food will be more accessible with lower costs. With the bigger companies selling their products in most grocery chains, the organics will have a bigger presence as well.  This in turn makes it available and affordable to more people.  Another plus is that the organic market will grow as a result and create more organic farmers as well as convert some existing ones.  Organic farming benefits us all as it's better for the environment.
But, and you knew it was coming, the negatives to this are that the remaining independent companies will have a harder time expanding which may put them out of business or bought out.  As is common among corporations, cutting costs is key, and this may affect how the organic products are made.  Ben & Jerry's, for example, had to remove "All Natural" from many of its labels as Unilever took it over b/c the ingredients had alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.  Another notable change is Cascadian Farms; after General Mills acquired the organic company, the Cascadian Farm's Purely O's oat cereal was reformulated with triple the amount of sugar!
Maybe this info is nothing new to you, or it's all a big surprise.  Whatever the case, if you want to refrain from feeding the giants, make yourself aware of the actual independent companies to purchase from.  Also, make yourself aware of any changes to a product's formula to ensure quality is not being sacrificed.
What are your thoughts on this?  Any stories of your own that you'd like to share, please post to comments.

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