Coke or Pepsi? Odwalla or Naked Juice? Big corporations get slick about getting our money

Big-biz junk-food producers hide behind eco-friendly labels

Say it ain’t so
Imagine my dismay upon finding out, in Adbusters America’s recent “The Big Ideas of 2012” issue, that Naked Juice—the line of healthful, preservative-free juice drinks that I was so happy to see sold at gas-station convenience stores on my recent cross-country trip—is actually the product of a company that is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. Similarly, Odwalla’s nutritious juice drinks come to us courtesy of the Coca-Cola Company.

I did a little research and found out that Naked and Odwalla started as small businesses in the 1980s in Santa Monica and Santa Cruz, respectively; both ended up selling out to big corporations for the big bucks (Naked was bought by a Connecticut firm, North Castle Partners, before being acquired by Pepsi in 2007).

It doesn’t stop there: Organic-chocolate company Dagoba has been owned by The Hershey Company—which was recently chided in the media for violating international labor-rights standards by using cocoa grown and harvested by West African children (see - since 2006.

Confectionery giant Mars Inc. (Milky Way, M&M’s, Snickers, Skittles, Twix and so on) recently acquired organic-seed and -food company Seeds of Change. Kraft Foods (Cheez Whiz, Lunchables and Velveeta) now owns the Back to Nature brand of artificial-flavor- and preservative-free cereals and granola.

The “fascinating angle,” as Adbusters put it, in all of this is just “how well-hidden these relationships are. In the old days, Hershey would make sure everyone knew they were involved when they sold chocolate.”

Would customers at natural-foods stores still buy, say, Dagoba chocolate if they knew the company was owned by Hershey? Chances are the answer would be no, for a number of reasons, including Hershey’s lousy track record in the arena of illegal child labor.

What’s going on here? Major junk-food producers seem eager to get a piece of the ever-growing organic, natural-foods money-pie, but they know that they need to be subtle if they are going to be successful (just try to find the word “Pepsi” on a bottle of Naked Juice!). Consumers of healthful foods tend to be savvy on a number of fronts, including reading labels for ingredients and manufacturer, as well as often not wanting to give big corporations (especially those that produce massive amounts of sugary, processed, chemical-laden, nutrient-lacking junk foods) their money.

When it comes to purchasing food and drink, one does indeed vote with one’s money, a point not to be forgotten.

While it could be argued that Hershey, Coke and Pepsi are doing a good thing by offering more healthful foods in their largely crappy repertoire, by buying any product they make one is still supporting the often questionable actions of these corporate giants (which includes, in the example of Coca-Cola alone, such things as sketchy labor practices and a poor environmental record, in addition to the addictive, teeth-rotting nature of its signature product).

Read those labels (and do a little Internet research on products, if you’re unsure).