For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s All About Organics page and our Myth of Natural page.
WASHINGTON — A field of vegetables glistening in the sun, happy cows grazing in green pastures and pure, whole grains blowing in the wind? Not so fast:
Organic food isn’t exactly what it used to be.
Earlier this month, food
conglomerate General Mills purchased Annie’s Homegrown — a popular natural and organic brand known for its kid-friendly boxes of macaroni and cheese and “bunny” snacks.
In September 2014, food conglomerate
General Mills purchased Annie’s Homegrown — a popular natural and
organic brand known for its kid-friendly boxes of macaroni and cheese
and “bunny” snacks. (Getty Images)
Shortly after the announcement, The Deal reported the maker of the
natural snack Boomchickapop is on the auction block and could be sold to Campbell Soup Co., the same big food company that bought the all-natural baby food brand Plum Organics last year.
These recent announcements are part of an increasing trend in the food industry: Food giants are taking advantage of the skyrocketing demand for organic and are buying up the smaller and independent companies.
“Traditional categories of more processed foods and cereal have really been stagnant, so the larger food conglomerates are seeking out this growth and making acquisitions in this space in order to cater to that growing consumer demand,” says Richard Collings, senior writer at The Deal.
Annie’s, Boomchickapop and Plum Organics are just a few independent companies that have shifted to “big organic”; many preceded them. According to The New York Times, organic cereal brands Bear Naked and Kashi belong to Kellogg, while Naked Juice is owned by PepsiCo.
For many, the idea of a company such as General Mills, the maker of Lucky Charms and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, manufacturing a brand such as Annie’s, whose slogan is “real food tastes better,” is ironic — and enough to make loyal organic shoppers boycott a brand. But Collings says losing a few loyal customers is sometimes worth the trade.
“They’re almost trading a more niche consumer for a larger market,” he says. “I imagine there are definitely people who quit buying those products, but then I guess they’re hoping that then they’ll get introduced to new consumers via Wal-Mart or Kroger or these kinds of more mass retailers.”
And while the packaging on these natural and organic brands usually remain the same after deals go through with the big food companies, there’s no guarantee the product inside the package will. “Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore,” The Times writes.
Collings says once a company grows its consumer base, sourcing becomes more unpredictable.