The ‘Big 10’ That Control Almost Everything We Eat
Only a couple of years ago I learned that there are a handful of mega conglomerates that run most of our food supply and most everything you buy at the grocery store. This is problematic for many reasons. Household brands we have all heard of such as Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever, General Mills, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, MARS, Danone, Associated British Foods (ABF), and Mondelez (previously Kraft) are some of the world’s biggest food companies in size and in revenue.
These companies are much larger than they seem at first glance, and this is done intentionally to have seemingly “competing” subsidiaries in their portfolios, so that we wouldn’t pair with one another. This allows them to mislead the food system and be able to monopolize it without people knowing. For example, Kellogg’s owns subsidiaries from health-conscious Kashi to kid-friendly Keebler. Nestle we know for their water and chocolates, but they also own Purina. To prove my point, I’ve listed some of the brands that just one company listed owns below, to give an idea of how large the company is.
- Special K
- Natural Touch
- Morningstar Farms
- United Bakers Group
- Egyptian Companies
- Famous Amos
- Bear Naked
- Corn Flakes
- Frosted Flakes
- Austin cookies & crackers
Just to throw this number out there, for fiscal year 2018, Kellogg’s reported revenue of $13.54 billion. That’s right, over 13 billion in one year! I know it sounds like I’m focusing only on Kellogg’s here, but they’re just an example I’m familiar with, each ‘big 10’ company is this same way!
The graphic image of the ‘big 10’ originates from Oxfam American’s “Behind The Brands” campaign. This image is not the most up-to-date now, I see a few missing such as Enjoy Life Foods the allergy-friendly brand which is now owned by Mondelez and has been since 2015, but I love the idea behind this image and it’s still very impactful. Behind the Brands is challenging the “big 10” food companies’ policies, encouraging them to do more for people and the planet, such as looking at how they’re negatively impacting climate change and poverty, and help harnesses the power of consumer action to convince the ‘big 10’ to do better, as explained more on their website. Take a good hard look at the above image, look for brands you shop regularly. Doing this has made me want to support and buy from more local, smaller brands. In short, brands who care more. I’ve found in that smaller brands in general (food and non-food) are able to tell me more about the ingredients, because they want their customers to know!
Most of the ‘big 10’, if not all of them, are often disrespectful to the allergy community in their actions. Typically I’ve found that Kellogg’s won’t label for ‘may contain’ or give information to consumers on shared equipment or facilities, but since it isn’t required in the U.S., I can’t fully blame them. In my opinion, the FDA needs to up their standards for food labeling practices in the U.S. to ensure people know what they’re ingesting, especially if it’s life-threatening and if the death of someone can be avoided. Some sub-companies Kellogg’s owns are more transparent with consumers on the allergens in their facilities, such as Famous Amos, so I do appreciate that, but wish it were more common across the board.
In the past, I know that both General Mills and Kellogg’s have put peanut flour in a bunch of previously peanut-less products, even after the allergen community voiced their concerns for the safety of consumers who have trusted the products for decades. So this action felt like a jab to the community, and signaled to me that they don’t care about the people, since they still decided to put peanut flour in sauces and cereals while peanut allergies are on the rise. It’s a similar situation to airlines still serving peanuts, it’s a jab to the allergy-community and disrespectful, because they’re saying they value a specific food over someone’s life. With these 10 food and beverage companies controlling an ENORMOUS chunk of consumer food products, it is quite troubling, since their values for consumers are atrocious. I urge you to look more into this yourselves, and comment or write me with any questions, comments, or thoughts!
Together we can create the positive changes we want to see! A good place to start is supporting food brands you love the mission of, by shopping from them! Another way is buying from your local farmers, and looking into organizations you can support who are already doing a lot of heavy lifting on issues you’re passionate about. For me, a new organization on my radar is Oxfam America!