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  • Writer's pictureThe Pink Elephant Lady

Which Big Food/Big Beauty Company Owns that 'Small', 'Natural' Brand?

As consumers demand fresher food and safer personal care product ingredients, massive multinational corporations want a piece of that big "green" pie (especially as they see consumers turning away from legacy brands and towards smaller, independent labels and their often healthier and/or fresher options). These corporations are increasingly gobbling up independent brands.

For most small brand owners, getting bought out by a huge parent company is the ultimate dream. The conventional wisdom is that getting your products on the shelves of a big chain/big box store, and then getting bought out by a multinational, are the holy grails.

I started seeing ads for Native deodorant EVERYWHERE in my social media feeds - Instagram, Facebook, everywhere. And pretty much everyday. I began to wonder why - my first thought was, okay, who bought them? Oddly this 'small' brand now has deep enough pockets to pay for showing up in my newsfeed, and that of many thousands of other people, nearly everyday across multiple social media channels. Sure enough, Native was bought out by the massive Proctor & Gamble in November of 2017. Well, that explains things. Schmidts, another deodorant brand I've been seeing a lot more of, was bought by Unilever late last year.

But so what? Why does all this matter? In the article 'The Corporate Takeover of Small Green Brands: Blessing or Curse?', branding expert Victoria Brockman states that “if an environmentally friendly company is purchased by, say, a chemical corporation, it’s highly unlikely that the brand will evolve to become greener; what is more likely is that the brand’s green credentials will slowly decline. For example, an industry giant may take advantage of economies of scale by packaging the beauty products in the plastics they manufacture rather than making a switch to bioplastics or glass. If the corporation works in conjunction with GMO producers, what’s to stop them from adding GMO soy ingredients to a product and calling it ‘natural’?” Indeed, Unilever and other major corporations like it are deeply connected to the petroleum and GMO industries, which raises the question of whether these companies are also acquiring organic labels to help greenwash their image. To wit: Unilever’s website is full of platitudes about its commitment to ‘sustainable living'.

Personally, I find it annoying that a massive corporation that tests on animals also wants me to buy its 'no animal testing' brand. I find it suspicious that a huge multinational that buys a certain green cleaning brand that has always touted its commitment to safe, non-toxic products also makes something like Axe Body Spray or stinky Febreze with all of its mystery fragrance ingredients. And it's old news that Burt's Bees is owned by Clorox. Chlorine bleach, anyone? If it's such a positive development to be bought out by a multinational, why don't they make a bigger deal about the new partnership?

I remember buying a can of 'Wolfgang Puck Organic Soup' and trying to figure out who owned them at the grocery store. The label, in hard to find, tiny letters, says it's distributed by 'CSC Naturals'. What exactly is 'CSC Naturals'? A confusing way to say Campbell's Soup Company, of course. I suspect the multinationals see the gobbling up of independents as an opportunity to 1) minimize costs while cashing in on the reputation of these smaller brands to get you to pay more for what eventually won't be all that different than their other brands; 2) Squash the competition factor of smaller, organic, natural brands competing with the revenue of their older, more toxic, legacy brands.

Yes, it'd be nice to get the big, fat paycheck that comes from getting bought out. But I've never shopped at Wal-Mart in my life, and never plan to. They do not represent my values, so I do not wish to have my products on their shelves. I think being on Target's shelves dilutes my brand. It's tough - my company is a social enterprise, and I'd love to bring in that kind of cash to support my nonprofit partners. However, I also think many of these big box and multinational corporations help create the kind of world that requires the existence of these non-profits.

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