Health- and environmentally-conscious consumers look specifically for natural and organic foods at the grocery store.
When we find something we like, we come to trust it and don’t give it another thought, adding it to our go-to list.
Until something changes.
Something has changed.
Annie’s Homegrown–the brand with the cute bunnies on its packaging–has sold out to General Mills to the tune of $820 million. Founded in 1989, Annie’s declares:
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“We’re a mission-driven business grounded in using natural and organic ingredients to make great-tasting products that consumers love. We source ingredients only from places and people we trust. And we work hard to act as a positive role model for consumers and other businesses.”
They’re gonna need to change that a bit. They trust General Mills? Selling out to a corporate giant that boastfully uses genetically-modified organisms (GMO) in its products (and pays vast amounts opposing GMO labeling) serves to provide a positive role model? For whom?
GMO-free Trial Hanged
In its defense, General Mills dipped its toe into the GMO-free pool by removing all GMOs from its original Cheerios early in 2014. Because consumers who actually care about that kind of thing see the bigger corporate and ethical pictures, sales didn’t increase as a result so, what did General Mills do? Remaining in character, it stopped making the GMO-free Cheerios.
If your primary concern is quality and safety of the food you buy, ignoring the corporate structure and philosophy, fair enough. This move by Annie’s still remains dubious. In a statement by Annie’s CEO John Foraker, the enthusiasm for the acquisition is apparent:
“We are excited about this strategic combination, which will enable Annie’s to expand the reach and breadth of our high quality, great tasting organic and natural products, provide new opportunities for our employees, realize greater efficiencies in our operations, and maximize value for our stockholders. Powerful consumer shifts toward products with simple, organic and natural ingredients from companies that share consumers’ core values show no signs of letting up. Partnering with a company of General Mills’ scale and resources will strengthen our position at the forefront of this trend, enabling us to more rapidly and efficiently expand into new channels and product lines in a rapidly evolving industry environment.”
General Mills is not a new kid on the block, neither are its leaders stupid.
Considering its track record and its obvious motivations, can we really buy that nothing will change? If General Mills has long-established suppliers that can deliver similar ingredients at lesser cost, will it continue to use those of its little new child? Not all of Annie’s current products are organic; the sleight of hand doesn’t even have to be covert. The CEO says outright that part of Annie’s motivation for selling is market expansion and realizing “greater efficiencies”.
Given the strident and vociferous opposition by General Mills and many other huge food manufacturers to GMO labeling, it can quietly get around wording on packaging without anyone being the wiser. “Big Food” has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to allow GMOs to be labeled as “natural”. Given that many government officials are existing or former executives of these and associated giants like Big Ag, it may very well be successful.
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Annie’s acquisition is the latest of General Mills’ positioning in the organic foods market, joining Muir Glen, Lärabar, and Cascadian Farm, among others. We can now add Annie’s to the list of other smaller companies that manufactured true natural and organic products which have been gobbled up by Big Food companies, like Kashi (Kellogg’s), Burt’s Bees (Clorox), Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), and Tom’s of Maine (Colgate-Palmolive). All hope is not lost, however; there are many companies that are still faithfully adherent to a non-GMO philosophy.
The Almighty Dollar reigns supreme. As consumers, we must remain mindful and vigilant, staying aware of what’s in our food and from where it’s coming.