News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Who's Really Behind Organic Food Brands Like Amy's and Odwalla?

Over the past decade many small organic food brands have been snapped up by giant corporations. Clearly, this can be bad for standards and quality.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

I’ll never forget the time I first tried an Odwalla tangerine juice. It was back when tangerine juice was a seasonal offering, during a short window of time in January and February.

I’d just finished a long uphill walk on an unusually warm winter day in San Francisco, and that bottle of juice was manna for my thirsty body.

Then Coke bought Odwalla and seasonality went out the window, along with the pure natural taste of unadulterated juice. Now, if you could find a plain Odwalla tangerine juice not all dolled up with some “functional” additive, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from generic orange juice .

It’s no secret that there’s been consolidation in the organic and natural foods industry over the past decade or so. And clearly, consolidation can be bad for standards and quality.

These Who Owns Organics? charts have been passed around The Internet for years. Most people are shocked the first time they see them (Hershey’s owns Dagoba?).

Organics have always been big money, even in a recession. This attracts well-capitalized companies who want to invest, and who can blame them?

Mega packaged food companies and investor groups buy successful organic brands that were started by visionaries who began the companies with a commitment to the organic ideal of family farms, a clean environment, and simple food without additives. But often, when the big companies buy in, this ideal flies out the window.

I’ve chosen ten of the more prominent organic and natural brands to survey. I’m comparing the stories they tell their customers to the  likely (and often proven) reality, based on who owns them.

I purposely put all of the prominent, still-independent brands in this list because I want to tell their stories. But this isn’t a story about small vs. big, small being good and big being bad.

All the independents listed below are big companies, but they have the ability to uphold higher standards and work within their missions because they aren’t beholden to the intense scrutiny of the money managers.

Just for fun, can you guess which ones they are?

Amy’s
Amy’s Kitchen is the real deal . Named after the actual daughter of the company’s founders, Amy’s mission was to create a line of vegetarian food products for busy families that would be healthier than typical convenience, frozen, and packaged foods. Started in Petaluma, Ca., the company remains an independent, family-run business to this day and Amy herself blogs about her life as a college student (including her organic agriculture classes at Stanford). The company headquarters is still in Petaluma where the founders live. All Amy’s foods are vegetarian, but not all are organic. I get a kick out of looking at the old photos of the early days on the company website. I try to cook everything from scratch, but if I’m going to eat a frozen meal, make mine Amy’s!

Arrowhead Mills
Owned by Hain-Celestial, which also owns many other natural and organics brands. The good thing about Hain-owned brands is that they don’t generally try to fool their customers. They come right out and say it. The story on Arrowhead’s website is a folksy one about founder Fred Ford in the Texas panhandle, but it clearly states when the company was purchased by Hain. The other good thing about Hain is they specialize in natural and organic foods, so I feel a bit better about buying their brands. But Hain is also partially owned by Heinz, so that’s the reality.

I like Arrowhead because their product line is not processed. They sell mostly whole grains, beans, and nut butters (high quality ones at that). I do wonder where they source their raw ingredients, especially with this line: “bringing deliciously wholesome choices from America’s Heartland to your table.” Though it may not be, that line sounds like pure marketing to me. It’s true that many of these crops can be more cheaply grown in China and I’m not saying that Arrowhead sources from China. I can’t find any evidence of it (or that they buy from anywhere outside the US), but then again, their website and none of the product packages I surveyed for this article state country of origin information. Your guess is as good as mine.

 
See more stories tagged with: