Organic, Eco-Friendly Brands? They Might Not Be What You Think…

by heather

burtsbeeslogo

Did you know that Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox?

Did you know that Naked Juice is owned by Pepsi, and that Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive?

My friend Elisa, who is a wonderful personal finance blogger over at Thrive, sent me this article yesterday and I had to share it with all of you.

Why?

Because it completely floored me.

logo_01The article, which was published on Alternet.com, is a wonderfully-researched expose on these so called “small, boutique brands”, and the large conglomerations that really pull the strings behind the scenes.

What brands?

Well, I already mentioned Burt’s, Tom’s, and Naked. But, what about Kashi? Horizon Milk? Green and Black’s Organic Chocolate?

ho_logoYep, they’re all owned by mega-corporations. Which means the profits from your patronage might be going to fund things you might seriously disagree with.

So instead of giving money to small, “mom and pop” companies like we thought, we’re funding who knows what.

You can read the Alternet.com article here. I highly recommend you give it a look; the author did a fantastic job, and it’s very enlightening.

So, Who Owns What?

Again, we can thank Elisa over at Thrive for sending me this link, which I can now share with you.

EatWellDoGood.com has a wonderful page that clearly illustrates what major companies own which small brands.

For instance, did you know that Dean, the country’s largest diary company, owns Silk? That Kellogg’s owns Morningstar? That Heinz owns Garden of Eaten’?

This “map” is really cool, so head over here to check it out. You’ll be amazed to see who owns what. I know I sure was!

Where Do We Go With This?

Now I’m left to wonder, what do I DO with this information?

I’m not sure. I’m still in shock that I had no idea about any of this.

Does this mean I’m going to stop buying a brand like Tom’s, which is one of my absolute favorites?

I don’t think so. After all, Tom’s makes deodorant sticks and toothpaste tubes that are completely recyclable. The products themselves are great, and the company gives 10% of its profits to non-profit organizations.

And, funding from larger corporations can help a small company like Tom’s reach more people, which means that awareness will grow.

On the other hand, what about Clorox owning Burt’s Bees? Even the word “Clorox” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. After all, they make stuff like Drano. Clorox is one company I don’t want to support.

But, it seems like the green initiatives the Burt’s Bees founders began will still keep going. According to this article on the takeover, published in The New York Times:

Burt’s Bees maintains its founders’ green philosophies. Employees’ bonuses are based in part on how well the company meets energy conservation goals, and there are prime parking spaces for staff members who drive hybrid cars or carpool. It buys offsets for 100 percent of its carbon emissions and is working toward a goal of sending no trash to landfills by 2020.

In summation, I think it helps to just be aware. I mean, it’s not like I don’t buy anything from big brands. I love a cold Coke now and then, and I should buy stock in General Mills for all the Fiber One Raison Clusters cereal I eat. If they would just stop sprinkling crack on the little fiber flakes, I might have a chance…

So anyway, I’m no purist. I’m just amazed that I had no idea. I still feel a little weird about it, because I really do try to buy from smaller brands (or individuals) the majority of the time.

I might start looking for smaller, “mom and pop” brands for some things. I probably won’t give up Tom’s, because I truly love them, but I could easily give up Burt’s for another person or company who makes eco-friendly, all-natural soaps and shampoos (and aren’t grossing billions per year).

What do you think? Have these companies gone over to the dark side, or do you think it’s good that these products will reach more people?

Is this information going to change your purchasing decisions? Chime in and let’s talk about it!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken June 4, 2009 at 7:46 am

Personally I believe it is okay to purchase products like Tom’s of Maine even with the large corporate backing because it shows them that there is a market for more earth-friendly products. Which is good. That said, they still need to be watched because I trust large corporations about as much as the devil. Their track records aren’t good.

Great article!

heather June 4, 2009 at 9:08 am

Ken,

I’m with you.

I did get involved in a discussion on Twitter, and heard that when Burt’s Bees got bigger and became more “corporate” more and more chemicals found their way into their products. They’re less natural than they used to be.

Please note, though, that this is COMPLETELY unsubstantiated…I haven’t researched this personally yet. It was just something me and some other green-minded folks were talking about on Twitter. So, finding out if that’s the case is on my to-do list.

I do know that several of Burt’s Bees products are not considered “safe” on the EWG Cosmetic Safety Database. So, that’s something to keep in mind as well.

Thanks for writing in!

Elisa@Thrive June 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Heather,

Thanks for taking this article and running with it. Matt circulated it around our office a few days ago and it got us all chatting excitedly.

We actually found the second link when Colin got cheeky and decided to ask Nature’s Path the question “Who owns you?” They sent proudly sent him the chart of who owns who in the organic farm industry.

Again, thanks for mentioning us! And keep up the great work!

Best,
Elisa and team Thrive

heather June 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Elisa,

I was really stunned when you sent it over to me! I can’t imagine why I hadn’t given it a thought before…it just never occurred to me that a cute little company like Burt’s could possibly be owned a mega-corp like Clorox, of all things.

Thanks so much for the enlightening article!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper June 4, 2009 at 3:50 pm

This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I dislike giant corporations in general and hate to see a good company “sell out,” but my husband argues that when a small company like Tom’s of Maine aligns itself with a large company like Colgate, it allows them to grow and reach more people that would have never seen their product before. In most cases, the small company retains their ultimate goals and most of their control over their product, but they have a greater marketing advantage. Still, I’d rather see my money going to a company I respect.

In defense of Burt’s Bees (which is headquartered in the Triangle where I live), the vast majority of their products do rate very well on the Cosmetic Safety Database, and they hold themselves to a high standard – if the product isn’t as natural and effective as possible, they actively work to improve it or they’ll discontinue it. Plus, they disclose all ingredients, which is a major indicator of whether or not a company is truly trying to make a healthy product. I only wish they used less plastic packaging. I hate when companies put “recyclable” on their packaging when in most places it’s not accepted for recycling.

Taya June 4, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Hey,

I just came across your blog today and I have already bookmarked you! I read your review on the Diva Cup and it gave me confidence to try it as well. I am rather new to Organics but I have to say making different choices has led me to feel feel and look better. I went to your home page and read this post which I found fascinating and informative. So keep up the good work. Being in the know is good and personally I love Green&Blacks and I will still choose to buy that over mainstream chocolates. I doubt I’ll buy Burt’s Bees products but for most lipbalm/skin care I use LUSH anyways. I love their products and they smell heavenly. However, I guess when shopping in the supermarket now it will feel less “organic” and more of like a choice between lesser of two evils now. *sigh*

ScentualSoundtracks June 4, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Again, great post! I was a die-hard fan of Dagoba Lavender Chocolate… While the exposure from corp. ownership creates more exposure I hate to see the original spirit behind the products and the integrity of ingredients in many cases, sacrificed in interest of massive profit.

I’d like to plug Etsy as a place to shop for bath and beauty items from smaller, non-corporate owned companies. Although some sellers create products from a base, which is mass manufactured, a good deal of them make items from scratch and also buy their ingredients from other small and/or family-owned suppliers. I have been shopping there for 2 years now and have been 90% pleased with my products. Plus I am supporting (often times) single and/or stay-at-home moms and families. Read sellers’ feedback to find the best products for you. Check it out! http://www.Etsy.com

heather June 5, 2009 at 1:20 am

Erin,

It seems as if walking that line between “reaching more people” and “staying a boutique, family company” would be an incredibly difficult one to navigate.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but it seems as if many companies, and the awesome values they started with, get lost in the pursuit of the bottom line once they align themselves with a bigger corp.

It’s been a few years for Tom’s and Burt’s since their takeovers, so I’m hoping that they don’t succomb!

Thanks so much for writing in.

heather June 5, 2009 at 1:23 am

Scentual,

Etsy is awesome, and I’m grateful you brought it up. I’ve purchased a few things from Etsy (I only discovered it a few months ago) and have been really impressed with everything I’ve bought. The quality is great, and it’s wonderful to buy from real people instead of a faceless company!

With Etsy, you really feel as if your money is going somewhere. You get a great product, and someone else gets paid. They can support their family.

Thanks for bringing that into the conversation!

heather June 5, 2009 at 1:33 am

Taya,

Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to write in! That’s awesome you bought a Diva. I hope you love it.

I’ve never heard of Lush, but I’m going to look them up. Thanks for the tip!

And I know what you mean about picking the lesser of two evils. I sort of feel that way too. 🙂

Ashley June 5, 2009 at 8:42 am

THANKS for sharing! I was aware that the smaller companies were being purchased by the larger, but I wasn’t aware of some of them. One way to get around this sort of thing: buy local. Shop at the local farmers market and investigate local shops to see if they sell all-natural handmade soaps and thing such as that. You can also stop buying any toothpaste, deodorant, or shampoo and start using baking soda or making baking soda based products at home. Finally, I think sometimes it doesn’t matter who owns the company, as long as the environmental imact is at its least, as long as the animals are treated kindly, and as long as your health is not jeapordized by harmful chemicals.

Karen June 5, 2009 at 11:30 am

It was just a matter time before the big guns realized the financial gain that they would have on gobbling up these companies since there’s a huge demand for organic products. I was wondering why I was seeing Burt’s Bees products everywhere, even in big bookstores like Borders (don’t see the connection there) so I suspected a big corp must have bought it. I knew about Tom’s because I read it somewhere. (I’m on the fence about their products too since some of the ingredients are iffy.) I also read that Stonyfield’s Yogurt gets some of their organic berries from China. China? Why not use American berries? Support local and not waste oil in transporting them all the way from China!

It is a dilemma since I can find them everywhere now and don’t have to go to a natural food store. But the quality and the purity issue is bothersome since someone else’s hand is in the cookie jar and not the original developer of the product. Who knows where they are getting their ingredients from and how they are inspected. 🙁

heather June 8, 2009 at 5:42 am

@Ashley- I do the same thing; I’m fortunate to live three blocks away from a lovely Farmer’s Market (this Sunday’s purchases were fresh eggs, homemade maple syrup, and 2 jars of Blackberry Rhubarb Jam: YUM!). So, that’s definitely a staple “to do” for us! I wish every town had a Farmer’s Market.

@Karen- You bring up a point that has been on my mind too. The bigger these small companies get, the more chemicals (and lost quality) might be ending up in the product. And that “more hands in the cookie jar” is a great analogy.

I hadn’t heard that about Stonyfield…if it’s true, it’s disturbing. I might have to put on my investigative hat and look that up! 🙂

Thanks so much for writing in!

Cassiopeia July 5, 2009 at 10:56 am

Sometimes you have to weigh one factor against another. I would rather buy from a small (preferably local) company whenever possible, but here’s more on Burt’s Bees:

The book “Ecobarons: the dreamers, schemers and millionaires who are saving our planet” by Edward Humes has a segment on Roxanne Quimby, the founder of Burt’s Bees. In 2003 she sold Burt’s Bees to a company called AEA Investors for $179 million, but kept a 20% interest and a seat on the board of directors. In 2007 it was sold to Clorox for $913 million ($182 million to Roxanne Quimby). Clorox agreed to continue the green policies already in place (which were continued after the sale to AEA) as well as to use green practices in some of its other divisions. So all in all, hopefully a win. Roxanne Quimby has spent much of her profit buying land in Maine that others were seeking to clear-cut for timber or development, with the plan to donate it to the national park system. Read the book for details on this and other econ barons/baronesses — it’s really interesting.

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