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I am only left to wonder, is Trader Joe's, popularly known to showcase Tom's of Maine in its hygiene department, just as much in the dark about all of this as I have been? Or is Joe's simply another conduit for big corporate products?
As my curiosity grew, I took a little field trip to the grocery store with one of my friends to be a "brand anthropologist." "Let's get to the bottom of this," I said, aiming to check out all of the brands that I and countless other good consumers were buying in our efforts to support grassroots business and not corporate behemoths. Little did I know how deep the hole was going to be, and in some cases, how hard to find out who owns what.
In the dairy section sit many flavors of Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt. I knew its socially conscious CEO, Gary Hirshberg, had created major organic brand recognition to become the No. 1 seller of organic yogurt in the United States, but since then Danone, the French conglomerate (which also owns Brown Cow), acquired a majority holding in Stoneyfield. This is the same Danone that had to recall large quantities of its yogurt in 2007 after it was found to contain unsafe levels of dioxins. (In an interesting twist, the still-active Hirshberg sits on the board of Dannon U.S.A. Unlike most of the early entrepreneurs, who took the dough and left the scene, Hirshberg is still involved.)
Meanwhile, I learned that Horizon Organic milk was bought out by the largest dairy company in the U.S., Dean Foods Co., in 2005.
Thirsty? Juices and Water
Next I ventured to the juice section. Drinking Odwalla juices was an expensive habit I had justified for years because of its healthy California brand. The ubiquitous refrigerators in thousands of stores should have given it away that Odwalla wasn't the small company it once was. It is now owned by Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as Coca-Cola bought the company, back in 2001 for $181 million, it stopped selling the fresh-squeezed OJ that had made Odwalla famous and popular among the healthy set. With its massive distribution system, fresh squeezed wouldn't last the days and weeks the juices are in transit or on the shelf.
Not to be outdone (although it took it a while), Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006 for $450 million, in order to compete with Odwalla. Smuckers, the brand we are told is the "brand we can trust," grabbed several juice mainstays from the health food store shelves: After the fall - R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic.