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Your Favorite 'Natural' Brands May Not Be What They Seem
By Indy Media /

Burt’s Bees lip balm was originally sold at independently owned health food stores. But more recently, Burt's Bees products have appeared everywhere -- in grocery stores, drug stores, and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. That’s because Burt's Bees is now owned by Clorox, a massive corporation that has historically cared very little about the environment.

Many of the products you may trust and respect for their independence and social responsibility are now owned by big corporations that are going out of their way to hide their link to the small, socially responsible brands.

Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a massive company with a revenue of approximately $11.4 billion. Danone, the French conglomerate which also owns Brown Cow, has acquired a majority holding in Stoneyfield -- the same Danone that had to recall large quantities of its yogurt in 2007 after it was found to contain unsafe levels of dioxins. Horizon Organic milk was bought out by the largest dairy company in the U.S., Dean Foods, in 2005.

Odwalla is now owned by Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as Coca-Cola bought the company, it stopped selling the fresh-squeezed OJ that had made Odwalla famous and popular -- fresh squeezed can't last the days and weeks the juices are now in transit or on the shelf. Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006, in order to compete with Odwalla. Smuckers grabbed several juice mainstays from the health food store shelves: After The Fall, R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic.

Kashi cereals was bought in July 2000 by Kellogg's, the 12th-largest company in North American food sales (but if you look at a box of Kashi's "Go Lean Crunch", for example, you will find not one mention of the fact that Kellogg's owns them.) Kraft Foods bought the natural cereal maker Back to Nature. Kraft is a subsidiary of Altria, which also owns Philip Morris, one of the world's largest producers of cigarettes.

General Mills owns Cascadian Farm. Barbara's Bakery is owned by Weetabix, the leading British cereal company. Health Valley and Arrowhead Mills are owned by Hain Celestial Group, a natural food company traded on the NASDAQ, with H.J. Heinz owning 16 percent of the company.

Green and Black's organic chocolate was taken over in 2005 by Schweppes, the 10th-largest company in North American packaged-food sales. Dagoba Chocolate is actually owned by Hershey Foods.

Marketing strategies have been fooling you, convincing you to trust that the niche brands continue to be small, environmentally conscious businesses with ecologically sound practices. In fact, they are frequently cogs in the giant corporate wheel. It is time to question how much the ownership and neglectful marketing of these "pseudo" responsible brands warrant crossing them off your shopping list. And it is time to find products more in tune with your values -- at least until they, too, get bought out by a large conglomerate.

For a more visual look at the structure Phil Howard, an assistant professor of Community, Agriculture, and Recreation and Resource studies at Michigan State University, put together a series of charts which show the significant acquisitions and introductions of organic brands by major food corporations, as of January 2008.

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Your Favorite 'Natural' Brands May Not Be What They Seem