Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Surprise! Our Favorite Organic Brands' Parent Companies

Back in January of 2009, my eyes were opened to a trend in the organic industry that I was very naive about. It was during a recall of peanut butter and products all tying back to the supplier, Peanut Corporation of America. I was surprised to see one of our favorite go to snack bars, LARA maker of the five ingredient or less Lara Bars, was on the recall list. Instantly I thought that was odd, I assumed a small Denver based company would not have such a mega-supplier. But turns out I came to learn a few things about Lara, the first being they were sold to General Mills. Read my original post here.

After doing some further reading, many parent companies of small organic brands came to light. I think the biggest disappointment for me is that quite a few organic brands have such a mom and pop persona, when purchasing them you feel like you are supporting something good. In some cases, the reality is you're just improving the bottom line of a tobacco company. Gulp.

The question that arises for me is at what point does the parent company start to interject their huge corporate philosophy into the small homegrown organic company? When do they start cutting corners, lessening quality standards, and skimping on sources of ingredients? I don't think we can quite say when, but I am sure it happens slowly over time.

Every dollar we chose to spend does make a difference. If a brand below and their parent company doesn't sit right with you, let it influence your buying decisions. For some people it may not bother them, I don't boycott these brands, but I certainly want to know where my money is going.

The Big Surprises:

Kraft Foods, Inc (who is owned by Altria aka. PHILIP MORRIS) owns Boca Foods and Back To Nature. Sticking my hand in a box of whole grain crackers is the same is lighting up a cigarette, I mean if we are talking about who gets the bottom line. Awesome, NOT!

Dean Foods owns White Wave, Alta Dena, Horizon Organic, and Organic Cow of Vermont. While I am happy to report that Dean Foods, sources their non-GMO soy from North American farms, see this link, I also discovered Dean is the country's largest dairy distributor. There has been a controversy about Hexane in the processing of soy products, read my post about it, here. Horizon Organic has also taken a lot of negative press for their factory farm style (as many as 8,000 cattle) Organic Dairies. Dean also has ties to Land O' Lakes, which is the company that has been named responsible for the development of the GE alfalfa that has come into heated debate this past week.

Hershey owns Dagoba Organic Chocolate. Aww, but their bars are so cute and special. Guess I'll save my $3.00 and buy a Hershey's bar with almonds instead.

General Mills owns LARA Bar, Cascadian Farms, and Muir Glen. I've known this for quite sometime. GM doesn't sit right with me and these partnerships bother me to no end. Cascadian Farms sources many of their frozen vegetables from China and Mexico, check their labels, they are open about the country of origin. It's hard for me to believe that the organic standards in China are the same here in the USA. Boy do I wish their produce still came from the northwest.

Unilever owns Ben and Jerry's. This partnership has not changed the face of Ben and Jerry's in my mind, will it? Time will tell.

Pepsi Co. owns Naked Juice. Ouch.

Coca-Cola owns Honest Tea and Odwalla. Double ouch.

Kelloggs owns Bear Naked, Kashi, and Morningstar Farms. I wonder why I pay a premium for these brands when it's just the same as the much cheaper Kelloggs. Or is it different? I'm not sure how to tell.

Heinz has a 20% stake in Hain Foods which owns, Bearitos, Celestial Seasonings, Jason Cosmetics, Earth's Best, Arrowhead Mills, Garden of Eatin, Health Valley.

Skin Care Companies:

Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate/Palmolive. Big, big surprise there.

Burt's Bees was purchased a few years ago, are you ready for this, by Clorox. How in the world does that happen? Oh Burt your cute long bearded hippy smiling face just has a new persona now, I'm assuming you're happily retired on your Clorox cash in Costa Rica or some place exotic? Or are they getting much less toxic products out to the masses? Which stance is fair to take, I'm undecided.

These aren't small organic brands, but they do disguise themselves under the natural skincare philosophy. Estee Lauder owns Origins and Aveda. L'Oreal owns The Body Shop.

I tried to do some research on a few companies that I adore and I found that they are privately owned still. Kiss My Face, California Baby, and Dr. Bronner's to name three! Wow, way to go!

If you are a visual person, I highly recommend clicking on these two InfoGraphics, they are wonderful and one of the sources of my information. If you visit Philip Howard's website, he has more great infographics on the seed industry, soda industry, and the organics industry. He's an assistant professor at Michigan State University and a wealth of information.

Here is a list of brands that have not "sold out" yet. Impressive, I am sure they've been approached by many of the corporate giants on numerous occasions. More power to the littles! They instantly move to the top of my support list.

My goal is to help you feel more informed as a consumer. I hope I didn't just shatter your favorite organic brand's image.


  1. The InfoGraphics are perfect. The movie, "Food, Inc." addresses this discouraging trend as well. Every person should watch the movie. I love the idea of Lara Bars and want desperately for them to made by an independent *crunchy* company. Sad.

  2. Wow...Good to know. Thanks for the info!

  3. Wow, really informative! I have to say, I'm thrilled to see that Bob's Red Mill hasn't sold out. At least there is one happy bearded man on a logo who I can trust.

  4. Nice!! My biggest surprise was Dagoba! Thanks for your investigative efforts! xo Keri

  5. Great post! I knew about Back to Nature being owned by Kraft, but didn't realize that was also owned by Phillip Morris! Yuck! We often buy their crackers since I can get them at King Soopers when I don't have time to go to WF. I'm going to have to think twice about that now. I also buy a ton of Muir Glen...but on the plus side they are removing the BPA from their tomato cans, so maybe that's a wash. I was a little sad to see the Toms of Maine, it's the only toothpaste I've used for probably 15 years. I was happy to see a number of our favorite brands weren't sell-outs though! Thanks for these informative Denise, you are making a difference out there!

  6. What a great post. It's so sad to see. The big giants really don't care. I'd like to add another gripe against Kraft - they took over Cadbury chocolate - worse day of my life.

  7. This is so eye opening! Thanks for doing so much research for us!

  8. Lara bar was the only real surprise here for me. I knew about Naked and Odwalla... still waiting on some bad news about Bolthouse Farms...

    Horizon is a shame, but to the best of my knowledge Organic Valley is still a co-op. We get a raw milk share, but still buy butter and cream at the grocery...

    Well done post. :)

  9. You are my new best resource for this stuff - can't thank you enough for your research and hard work pulling this info together.

  10. I was aware of most of these, thankfully, my favorite cereal hasn't sold out. Although it appears that Annie's is owned by a private equity firm which I just find odd. Strangely enough, I was not aware that Kraft was part of Phillip Morris. Stupid Kraft. I would like to believe what the CEO of Stonyfield Farms says in Food Inc about how bringing organics to Walmart and such and making them affordable will change how food is grown and produced. But when you have inconsistent standards for "organic" in every county, I mean really China has organic farming HA, and these "organic" brands are sourcing from all over the globe I am afraid people are just end up buying pretty packaging and I'm not sure what else. I think buying local organic produce and meat is more in line with supporting a mom and pop owned company mentality then over priced "organic" cheesy poofs made with "organic powdered milk" from four different countries.

  11. This is very eye opening! Thanks for compiling all this.

  12. M &M Mars owns quite a few as well: Seeds of Change, Goodness Knows and a few others...

    I have a friend at Mars who is working really hard on the launch of Goodness knows. http://www.goodnessknows.com/ We have them here in the Boulder area because they tagged us just the sort of people who want high-end chocolate with their healthy snack.

    maybe big companies are really the only ones who can bring us speciality snack to the larger market, because they have the money.

  13. Hi Denise,
    Some great info in your post, but I wanted to let you know that Silk uses only non-GMO soybeans grown in North America. You can learn more here http://silksoymilk.com/traceit/. As for Horizon, we work with more than 600 organic family farmers across the US and have two company owned farms that are models for pasture-based organic dairy farming. Bottom line, Horizon believes in organic dairy farming and we continue to lobby for even stronger organic regs. http://www.horizondairy.com/why-organic/our-farms. Thanks! Cathy at Silk

  14. Thanks for assembling this, Denise. My plan is to buy locally, small, organic. Easier to do here so close to Boulder, but I'm really worried about what I'll do once we're in Chicago. I've started investigating sources out there, but it's not going to be as easy as here.

  15. Thanks for your post! I knew a lot of what was in it already, and b/c of that was searching to see if Kiss My Face was owned my any of the mega-corps. Your post was the only place I found the info! So thanks!
    A note: if it's in a major grocery store or retailer, google it, it's not likely to still be privately owned, but some are sweet little surprises!


I always appreciate the gesture to stop and take a moment to comment. Thank you!