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 can 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 how large their “portfolio” really is. 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 only some of the brands that just one company owns, to give an idea of how large of an issue this is.
- Special K
- Natural Touch
- Morningstar Farms
- United Bakers Group
- Egyptian Companies
- Famous Amos
- Bear Naked
- Corn Flakes
- Frosted Flakes
- Austin cookies & crackers
*this is up-to-date as of 2020 but changes often and quickly as companies acquire more and shift
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 when you’ll be reading it, as I see a few missing already in 2021 now 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 believe 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 and 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 about their consumers and the planet. I’ve found in that smaller brands in general (food and non-food) are willing to tell me more about the ingredients and facilities, because they want their customers to be informed.
Most of the ‘big 10’, if not all of them, are often disrespectful to the allergy community in their actions. You can google and look up different situations around Kellogg’s in 2016 adding peanut flour to a number of products in a spiteful move– I prefer not to because it makes me so upset. 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 100% blame them. That’s why things need to change, they need to be held accountable. 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. It seems more often then not if something happens to be a peanut-free facility they’ll slap a label on it saying “no peanuts in facility” but there’s no actual meaningfulness behind making facilities allergen-free in a purposeful way to help people with food allergies.
In addition to Kellogg’s, General Mills has also 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. Actions like this feel like a jab to the community, and signal 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 or tradition 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.
Luckily, people like us care, and together we can create the positive changes we want to see. A good place to start is by supporting food brands you love & love the mission of, by shopping directly from them. I’ve been trying to show support with my money lately. If I don’t support the mission or actions of a company, I try to not give them support with my $$ (ahem cough cough Amazon cough). Another way to show support is looking into organizations who are already doing a lot of heavy lifting on issues you’re passionate about, or simply writing food brands and companies who are allergen-conscious and thanking them. With that in mind, a new organization on my radar is Oxfam America! What are some of your favorite brands?