Thursday, October 31, 2013

Behind the Brand Curtain

by Claire Robertson

Ever wonder who the wizard is behind the curtain of your favorite healthy, organic, or sustainable brand?  I did a little investigation and some of the findings might surprise you! If you are a consumer like me who likes making a purchase to support the “good little guys” and socially conscious companies, you'll want to take note.

Let’s start off in the cereal aisle. Because of its line of nutritious products and its earthy packaging design, Kashi gives the impression of being a small business focused on sustainability and social practices. When I’d buy Kashi, there was a part of me that felt good because I figured that I was supporting the brand that would help keep the planet healthy.  Kashi, after all, is the antithesis of a high-sugar junk food breakfast. But, an investigation into the brand revealed that Kashi was acquired by the Kellogg Company thirteen years ago! Kellogg Company is one of the big promoters of the sugary breakfast cereals and snacks brands (Frosted Flakes, Corn Pops, Froot Loops and Pop Tarts) that I didn’t want to support!

Still more from the cereal aisle: Quaker oatmeal is a product that any mom would want to her family to eat.  Mom’s like it to keep slim. Grandpa eats it to keep his diabetes down. The kid have a hearty, healthy breakfast. The Quaker brand, personified by the Quaker man himself is a symbol of honesty, hard work, and purity of life.  Yet, an investigation into Quaker Oats is owned by PepsiCo! It’s ironic that one of the best peddlers of sugar-water (and contributor to the obesity epidemic) is also dealing oats.

Lärabars are my new favorite energy bars. They are vegan, made with unprocessed foods and never have more than nine ingredients in them. The brand has got an independent vibe to it. Plus, the two dots over the A tell me that it is an import from Scandinavia! It has to be good those  blonde, northern Europeans practice clean living and eating, and have a balanced, healthy lifestyle. However, my indie bar Lärabars is actually owned by General Mills – a mega conglomerate who has a portfolio of more than 100 brands. General Mills seems to like the Euro brands in their portfolio. After all, they are the parents to Haagen Dasz and Yoplait France! Who would have thought?

Let’s look at one more. This one is from the cosmetics department. Burt’s Bees is known for its products manufactured with natural ingredients, its social business practices and its community involvement. These brand values capture both the attention and hearts of consumers like me. Yet, Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox – a bleach company. Bleach, of course poses problems to the environment.

            Of course, sustainability is growing in importance to consumers and sales in this space are projected to grow. You could argue that there is a positive side to the mega conglomerates buying out the Burt’s Bees, Larabars, and Quakers. After all, distribution of these brands makes the brands more available and the marketing muscle behind them can help shift consumer attitudes to more socially conscious purchases . But I can’t quite get over the fact that there are thousands and thousands of  consumers out there getting duped. When they think they are buying from socially-concious, environmentally friendly, or independent brand to support an idea or company, they are in fact supporting the conglomerates who hold exactly the opposite values.


  1. Multinationals seem to care only about the bottom line. Unilever has both Dove (real beauty) and Axe (objectifies women). It seems multinationals will sell whatever to whomever

  2. Bleach is bad for the environment. I can no longer support Burts Bee because it gives its profits to an organization that harms the environment