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Brand Awareness

Your favourite products may not be what they seem

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"What's important to keep in mind is that these big corporations are getting into organics not because they have doubts about their prior business practices or doubts about chemical, industrial agriculture," said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. "They're getting in because they want to make a lot of money - they want to make it fast." He said the companies couldn't care less about "family farmers making the transition to organic farms."

What does this all mean? One conclusion it is easy to come to is that big food companies and the stores and supermarkets that deliver their goods have stretched and abused descriptions of food until they are sometimes almost meaningless, and consumers believe that they are getting more benefits than they actually are. Consumers "walk down the aisle in the grocery stores' health and beauty area, and they're confronted with 'natural' at every turn," says Daniel Fabricant, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association. "We just don't want to see the term misused any longer."

On the other hand, Roger Cowe, a financial commentator states: "If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. And you can't do that if you're a small, specialist brand stuck in the organic or whole-food niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves. It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale."

Some think that socially responsible business sellers don't lose it all when selling out. Both Craig Sams from Green and Black chocolate and the late Anita Roddick from the Body Shop ( sold to L'Oreal/Nestle - one of the most vilified of multinational companies) have said that they believe that an acquired ethical company can influence its new parent to improve its corporate behavior.

Others are not so positive about this turn of events. Judy Wickes from the Social Venture Network describes corporate takeovers of socially responsible businesses as "a threat to democracy when wealth and power are concentrated into a few hands." And David Korten, in his book, When Corporations Rule the World , explained how sustainable business "should be human scale -- not necessarily tiny firms, but preferably not more than 500 people - always with a bias to smaller is better."

It is clear that so-called organic brands are a rapidly growing portion of the consumer dollar, and that every major food corporation has invested deeply in buying these already-established brands.